What is Fiber Optics? 7 Facts to Know

What is Fiber Optics

Fiber optics is a term that frequently appears on tech blogs and updates on Internet speed articles. It refers to a new technology that has plenty of potential when it comes to extra-fast data transfer. Many people believe that fiber optics 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.

1. The Technology Uses Light

“What is fiber optics?” is a question many people ask. It all starts with light. The “fiber” part of fiber optics refers to very small glass fibers that are bundled together in cables. These fibers are made out of carefully spun glass (or sometimes very high quality plastic) that is uses to transmit light pulses. At one end of the cable, a small electrical transmitter creates a flash of light. This light travels through the glass threads and emerges on the other side, where a receiver reads the signals to form data. The core of glass thread can come in two different versions: Single mode and mult-mode. Single mode cables use only one fiber per cable, while multi-mode cables use a tight weave of many fibers at once.

Just because fiber optics uses light does not mean the light travels at “light speed.” Those glass fibers work through internal reflection, constantly reflecting the light back and forth inside the thread. This preserves the signal — often very accurately – but it also slows the light down quite a bit. However, fiber optics still allows data to travel at amazing speeds.

2. You Have Probably Already Seen It Work

Some fiber optic applications are used as entertainment, and you have probably 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.

3. Fiber Optics are Better, Faster, and Stronger

What is Fiber Optics?
Photo Credit: Savannah River Site

The light that fiber optics uses is superior in nearly every way to the electric signals that old wires use. It is clearly very fast, and does not suffer from the resistance issues that electricity literally runs into as it passes through the 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 (although sharp bends in the cable can cause problems), resulting in much greater fidelity than traditional wires. In the end, data transfers through fiber optics can reach around 100 Gbps without any trouble, and that speed is frequently improved through new advancements.

4. Fiber Optic Cables Can Be Used in Your Entertainment System

True, most fiber optic cables are used in telecommunications and are out of your hands – but that is slowly changing. Fiber optics has already made an appearance in the average home entertainment system in the form of digital optical cables for audio. Many receivers now have a small slot for optical audio cables, which can produce unparalleled sound for your surround sound speakers. There is a caveat, however: Optical cables have higher costs than most other cables, and they can only be used for sound – you still need an HDMI cable for your picture quality.

5. Fiber Optic Cables Have the Potential to Change Internet Speeds

“Potential” is the key word in this fact. Fiber optic cables can transfer data between servers at very high, reliable speeds, so when optic cable is in place it can vastly improve bandwidth and Internet performance. However, installing fiber optics in every stage of the data transfer process is generally impossible. Eventually the data will hit a gateway where it will be transferred to a traditional wire-based signal, where it will slow down again. This allows fiber optics to only affect Internet data along certain stretches. Even more important for the end user, providers control exactly how much bandwidth you have, so the benefits are kept under strict control in current provider packages, limiting their effectiveness.

6. Fiber Optics are Expensive on All Sides

Fiber optics is an expensive investment. Fiber optic cables and devices are pricey in any form, but especially when it comes to infrastruture installation. Providers do not want to replace their extensive wire networks with fiber optics because it would take a massive amount of capital. Thus, many are resisting optical-based technologies so they can save money.

7. Google is Already Using Fiber Optics

While many companies are asking, “What is fiber optics’ potential for telecommunications?” some are already at work applying the science. Google in particular is experimenting with cheap fiber networks, and has already installed them in Kansas City, Provo, and Austin. Google promises up to one gigabit for download speedswith no data caps for their average plans – an almost too-good-to-be-true scenario, but one that has plenty of traditional providers nervous, especially as Google continues to adopt more towns.

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