FIBER OPTICS: The Wizard of Wired Communication – Part 1
Posted on: May 10, 2019.

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The plain old telephone system “POTS”, and the rudimentary telegraph—with cables laid underground, and even undersea—were the first inventions that enabled humans to communicate/exchange messages over long distances—even those separated by vast oceans!

Subsequently, breakthrough scientific inventions, and technological innovation, categorically redefined the way long distance communication and exchange of messages were conducted. Cable-enabled communication became outdated, and Internet-enabled information exchange from and to anywhere on the earth, rapidly gained ground.

Back in those days, cable-enabled communication was ‘conducted’ through copper wires insulated by rubber envelopes. Millions of homes around the world were serviced by telephones, broadband Internet, and electricity, all through copper-wire cables. While telephones and electricity are still traditionally serviced by copper-wire technology, broadband Internet cables have, progressively, in the present day, assumed a new, popular avatar, sensationalized as “FIBERNET”.

But what is the technology that has bestowed upon us this great privilege?


This is a term that most of us have undoubtedly heard of, but what exactly is ‘fiber optics’, and how does it work?

Back in the 1960’s, communication engineers used optical fibers to facilitate telephone calls at the speed of light, by sending coded information carried through a beam of light passed down a glass or plastic pipe. In brief, fiber optic technology is about high-speed data transmission using light as a carrier, through an optical fiber, based on the principle of “total internal reflection”.

    A fiber optic cable contains glass “silica” or plastic pulled or drawn into ultra-thin strands—a single strand is 0.0125 cm in thickness, or 1/10th the width of a human hair—with cables containing as few as two strands—capable of transmitting around 25,000 telephone calls each—to several hundred strands, which can carry millions of calls!

    Within a fiber optic cable, particles of light “photons” bounce back and forth off the walls of the cable—like a bobsled on an ice track—directed at shallow angles not more than 42 degrees. This reflects it back into the cable pipe, preventing it from “leaking” through the edges of the glass cable, a scientific phenomenon known as “total internal reflection”.

    Light signals travel through the core of the fiber optic cable, and are kept within the core by a second layer of glass “polymer buffer and jacket”, called “cladding”, wrapped around the outside of the core. Furthermore, not all fiber optic cables are the same. There are several modes that help the light travel in different ways.

Rudimentary fiber optic cables carried only telephone and television signals. Light pulses would travel for only about 65 feet before dissipating almost completely, but by 1970, communication researchers created an ultra-pure fiber optic cable more than 2,640 feet long!

By 2009—the year when fiber optic technology was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics—it was estimated that if all fiber optic cables used in the world were placed end to end, it would form a single, continuous fiber optic cable more than 600 million miles in length!

How different are fiber optic cables to electric cables?

What are the practical uses of optical fiber technology?


…continued in the next part

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