Fiber optics is something we’re hearing more and more about regarding High Speed Internet services. It refers to a technology that many think is new but has actually been around for quite a while. Many people believe that fiber optical fiber cables is the answer for the future of Internet connections.
If you are interested in learning more about this sci-fi sounding real science, read to see how fiber optics is slowly changing the world, and how you can use it yourself.
Made from Extruded Glass Strands
Some people think that the optical fiber cables we use today are made from rolled glass. This is untrue. The single glass strands that make up fiber cables are extruded and can reach lengths of two kilometers and more. A glass preform is put into an appliance that heats the bottom of the preform until it begins to melt, creating a glob of glass.
Gravity causes this glob to fall and the thin glass strand behind it cools and hardens. This strand is pulled through a machine that uses furnaces to deposit smokey soot and a buffer (coating that insulates against light interference) on the strand which helps causes the reflection of light beam the strand will carry. The speed at which the strand is pulled through the machine determines its diameter.
The Technology Uses Light to Transmit Information
We’ve been using light as a means of communication for hundreds of years. The first optical semaphore system dates back to 1790, and Alexander Graham Bell patented what he called, “The Photophone” which was a phone which used light to transmit sounds, in 1880. However, it wasn’t until about 1964 when fiber optics, as we know them today, began to take shape. Today, we use lasers with optical fiber to send our data, and we’ve developed technologies, which allow us to send multiple wavelengths (light frequencies) over a single cable to multiple the amount of data we can send on a single cable.
There are two types of fiber optic cables that are used: single-mode and multi-mode, shown in the picture above. Single-mode optical cables slightly smaller and must be used in pairs — one for send and one for receive — and are normally used for patch cords. Multi-mode cables are bigger and can send and receive and are usually used in bundles to transmit large amounts of data over longer distances.
You Have Probably Already Seen It Work
Some fiber optic applications are used around the home. You may have already seen them, especially around Christmas time. Those pretty little ornaments and trees with the fans of threads that glow different colors – they use basic fiber optic threads to transmit light (the color of the light is typically controlled by an LED light source at the base of the threads). Real fiber optic cables are of much higher quality. An example would be the cable with the square plug that goes between devices in your home theater system that are used to give your home theater the best surround sound experience possible (See below).
Fiber Optics Are Better and Faster
Using light is superior in nearly every way to copper wires. It is much faster (Almost the speed of light), and does not suffer from the resistance issues that electricity literally runs into as it passes through copper wires. The result is greater speed over long distances. The quality of the signal also receives a major boost. Fiber optic signals stay strong and clear of distortion as they pass through their glass threads, resulting in much greater fidelity than traditional wires.
Because fiber optics suffer much less signal degradation it can be used over much greater distances than copper without requiring amplification. Copper cables are reaching the limit of the speeds they can deliver at around 10GB, whereas we’ve already got the ability to transmit data optically around 100GB. However, while optical fibers are flexible, if mistreated, the glass inside can and will crack, rendering that section of cable worthless. Splicing can overcome this, but signal loss (attenuation) is experienced.
Fiber Optic Cables Are Bringing Higher Internet Speeds to Consumers
There are a number of companies around the country that are already using fiber optics to deliver High Speed Internet, TV, and Digital Phone service to consumer nationwide. These companies are servicing both rural and urban customers all over. One example, Nex-Tech, delivers service in the Midwest to mostly rural customers. Google is also offering fiber service up to a Gigabit in urban areas like Provo, Utah, Kansas City, and Austin.
Cheaper Over the Long Run For Carriers
The technology requires a significant investment up front, especially for companies upgrading from a purely copper infrastructure. However, a good portion of the initial investment can be offset because of the properties of optical fiber cables. Since it can go longer distances without amplification, long-haul carriers need fewer amplifiers. This means they don’t have to pay as much for power and upkeep on equipment.
Different Types of Connectors for Different Uses
As mentioned, HD audio cable mentioned above has a square connector on either end. That’s one of about 16 different types of connectors that can be used with optical cables. The single-mode cables I mentioned above usually use one of two paired connector types, T-SC Duplex and LC- Duplex. SC, FC, LC, and LC connectors are all popular in the data industry because they lock securely into place and suffer the least attenuation.