5 Amazing Facts You Didn't Know About Fiber Optics [Infographic]

Amazing Facts about fiber optics

Technology-related facts are often boring, but when it comes to fiber optics, that’s anything but true. You see, blockchain and artificial intelligence steal the spotlight, but they aren’t the only emerging technologies that are revolutionizing how we live and work.

You likely already know how at least one fact about fiber optics — that the technology is enabling superfast and more reliable internet speeds. In fact, fiber optics is the fastest mode of internet available today, and more and more individuals and businesses are replacing conventional broadband cabling with fiber optics.

But there’s so much more brilliance to this technology.

Besides ultra-fast internet, did you know that fiber optics are one of the most secure ways to transmit data online? Do you know what a fiber optic cable is made of and just how strong it is?

In this post — plus infographic — we’ve unearthed some interesting facts about fiber optic technology so you can get a fuller picture of just how remarkable this technology is. Let’s dive in.

Fact #1: Fiber Optics Dates Way Back to the Roman Empire

While fiber optics entered mainstream use only in the last few years, fiber optic technology has its roots back in Roman times when they started drawing glass into fibers.

Several centuries later, in the 1790s, the Chappe brothers in France invented the “optical telegraph,” a message-relay system of lights mounted on towers.

Then, in the 1840s, physicists Jean-Daniel Collodon and Jacques Babinet showed that light could be directed along jets of water for fountain displays.

Soon after in 1854, John Tyndall, a British physicist, demonstrated that light could travel through a curved stream of water. He proved this by setting up a tank of water with a pipe that ran out of one side. As water flowed from the pipe, he shone a light into the tank into the stream of water. And as the water fell, an arc of light followed the water down, thus proving that a light signal could be bent.

The next major milestone in the history of fiber optics was when Alexander Graham Bell patented an optical telephone system called the photophone in 1880.

With various other breakthroughs and developments by scientists around the world in the span of the next 100 years — in 1973, Bell Laboratories developed a modified chemical vapor deposition process that heats chemical vapors and oxygen to form ultra-transparent glass that can be mass-produced into a low-loss optical fiber. This process still remains the standard for fiber-optic cable manufacturing.

Then, in 1977, Long Beach, California was the first city to send live telephone traffic through fiber optic cabling, at a speed of 6Mbps.

Fast forward to 2011, and 19.2 million miles of fiber optic cabling was installed in homes in the US alone, enough to wrap the world 772 times!

Today, SEA-ME-WE 3 (“South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe 3”) is the longest optical submarine telecommunications cable in the world with a total length of 39,000 kilometers (24,000 miles).

Fact #2: Fiber Optics Communication is Staggeringly Fast

Fiber technology is the fastest mode of internet broadband technology available in the market today.

Using Fiber optics, the fastest internet speed in the world has been clocked at a mind-boggling 178 terabits per second (Tb/s) – fast enough to download the entire Netflix library in under a second.

Engineers in the UK and Japan have developed new ways to modulate light before it’s beamed down optical fibers, allowing for much wider bandwidths than usual.

Furthermore, in order to hit these speeds, engineers at University College London (UCL), Xtera, and KDDI Research developed new technologies to essentially squeeze more information through the existing fiber-optic infrastructure. Most are presently capable of a bandwidth of up to 4.5 THz, with some new technologies approaching 9 THz.

The team’s new system that’s based on Geometric Shaping (GS) constellations, however, raises the bar to 16.8 THz. In essence, these are patterns of signal combinations that alter the phase, brightness, and polarization of the wavelengths, so as to fit more data into the light without the wavelengths interfering with each other.

The best part? As it uses the fiber optic cables already installed in many parts of the world, this technology could be integrated into existing infrastructure relatively easily. Rather than replacing miles and miles of cables, it would only require upgrades to the amplifiers, which appear every 40 to 100 kilometers (25 to 62 miles) or so.

Fact #3: Fiber Optics Are Anything but Fragile

Fiber optic strands are ultra-lightweight and about as thin as human hair. And yet, fiber optics have more than eight times the pulling tension of a copper wire (200 pounds vs. 25 pounds).

So while strands of glass are at the core of fiber-optic cable — and to many of us, glass often translates to something that’s “easily breakable” — fiber cables are engineered to withstand challenging and rugged installations.

In fact, the military relies on fiber cables to keep its lines of communication open in the most hostile conditions.

NASA uses a fiber optic sensing system for in-flight instrumentation. Known as FOSS (for fiber optic sensing system), NASA’s patented, award-winning technology portfolio combines advanced strain sensors and innovative algorithms into a robust package that accurately and cost-effectively monitors a host of critical parameters in real-time.

And because fiber optic cables transmit light instead of electricity, they are not disrupted by changes in the temperature, rain, snow, thunderstorms, or virtually any other environmental condition.

Also, light does not generate heat when it passes through the cable, which means fiber optic cables are much less likely to catch fire as compared to their copper wire cable counterpart.

Fact #4: Fiber Optics is a Sustainable Technology

As fiber optic cables are made from silica (silicon dioxide), the second-most abundant element in the Earth’s crust after oxygen, there is no shortage of the raw materials used to create fibers.

The earth’s crust is essentially silica that’s composed of rocks. So, this element can be found in rocks, soils, and clays, often combined with oxygen and other elements, but still easy-to-extract and in an eco-friendly way.

What’s more, while copper wire cables take up to 3.5 watts to send light pulses over 1km, fiber optic cables only consume about 1 watt to do the same.

In other words, the amount of energy it takes to send a flash of light across a fiber optic cable is substantially less than that required to send electrical signals, meaning a much lower carbon footprint and emissions. Thus, fiber technology promotes greener IT operations.

Fact #5: Fiber Optics are Supremely Secure

Fiber optics is by far one of the safest ways to transmit information online. That’s because of the way fibers transmit data — by sending data as pulses of light across very thin strands of glass-based fiber.

Not only does this allow data to move at speeds approaching the speed of light, but it also makes the data signals much harder for hackers or cyber attackers to intercept and tap.

Whereas, copper cable transmits data using electricity, so data can be intercepted more easily by hackers connecting taps to a line to pick up the electrical signals. Tapping fiber-optic communication is extremely tricky as it does not radiate electromagnetic energy.

Not to mention any attempts to tap fiber cables will typically result in breaking the light signal transmission, so potential attacks can be quickly and easily discovered.

Wrapping Up

With these amazing facts about fiber optics in mind, now you can truly appreciate the importance of this incredible technological invention (beyond high-speed internet) and what it can do for individuals and businesses.

Now, below is a neat infographic compiling these amazing facts about fiber optics. If you found this post interesting, feel free to share the infographic with your friends and colleagues on social media.

fiber optics facts infographic

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