Optical Fiber Applications

The use of fiber was generally not available until 1970, when Robert Maurer of Corning Glass Works was able to produce a fiber with a loss of 20 dB/km. It was recognized that optical fiber would be feasible for telecommunication transmission only if glass could be developed so pure that attenuation would be 20dB/km or less. That is 1% of the light would remain after traveling 1 km. Today’s optical fiber attenuation ranges from 0.5dB/km to 1000 dB/km depending on the optical fiber used.

The applications of optical fiber communications have increased at a rapid rate since the first commercial installation of a fiber-optic system in 1977. Telephone companies began early on, replacing their old copper wire systems with optical fiber lines. Today’s telephone companies use optical fiber throughout their system as the backbone architecture and as the long-distance connection between city phone systems.

Cable television companies have also begun integrating fiber optics into their cable systems. The trunk lines that connect central offices have generally been replaced with optical fiber. Some providers have begun experimenting with fiber to the curb using a fiber/coaxial hybrid. Such a hybrid allows for the integration of fiber and coaxial at a neighborhood location. This location, called a node, would provide the optical receiver that converts the light impulses back to electronic signals. The signals could then be fed to individual homes via coaxial cable.

Local Area Networks (LAN) have also integrated or constructed their systems using optical fiber. A LAN is a collective group of computers, or computer systems, connected to each other allowing for shared program software or databases. Colleges, universities, office buildings, and industrial plants, just to name a few, all make use of optical fiber within their LAN systems.

Power companies are an emerging group that may begin to apply fiber optics as new revenue streams. With declining revenues in the power industry, some utilities are considering entering the telecommunications business as a way to supplement these shrinking revenues.

Based on industry activity, it is evident that fiber optics has become the industry standard for terrestrial transmission of telecommunication information. The choice is not whether to convert to optical fiber, but rather than to convert to optical fiber. The bandwidth needs of the Information Superhighway require a medium, like optical fiber, that can deliver large amounts of information at a fast speed. It will be difficult for copper cable to provide for future bandwidth needs. Satellite and other broadcast media will undoubtedly play a role alongside fiber optics in the new-world telecommunications order. Considering all the services that the telecommunications industries are announcing to be just around the corner, and a modern society that seems to be expecting them, it is evident that fiber optics will continue to be a major player in the delivery of these services.


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