What is Fiber Optics?


Fiber optics carries data through thin, flexible threads of glass or plastic by the transmission of light signals, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.1 Because of the efficiency of fiber optics, many communication networks use this technology.

What is fiber good for?

  • Households can get fast Internet, TV and phone service through fiber technology.2
  • The military uses fiber for their retrieval and deployment applications, mostly because of the high level of security.2
  • The aerospace and aviation industries use fiber because it is lightweight and small but also offers a powerful performance.2

Other industries are also moving towards fiber optics and, as the technology advances, the network and usage should continue to grow.

The history of fiber optics

The first optical telegraph was invented in the 1790s by Claude Chappe, a French inventor. The system was made up of lights that were placed on towers. The tower operators could then send messages to one another.3

In 1880, Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for his photophone – an optical telephone system. Although his invention of the telephone proved to be more practical, the photophone laid some of the groundwork for the development of future optical technology.3

Over the centuries, scientists, engineers, researchers and inventors continued to develop fiber optic technology into what it is today.3

Understanding the types of fiber optics

There are two types of fiber optics – premises cabling and outside plant (OSP). Premises cabling involves fiber-optic cabling that is installed inside a building or campus.4

OSP is the type of fiber optics often used for telephone, Internet and television services. As the name suggests, it is mostly installed outside buildings.4

OSP fiber-optic cables are underwater, underground, pulled in conduit or hung from poles. These cables can have up to 288 fibers and are typically up to approximately 2.5 miles in length, although they can be much shorter. Because they may need to connect for hundreds of miles, they’re spliced together by fusion.4

Parts of a single optical fiber

Each individual fiber is made up of three main parts: the core, cladding and buffer. Light travels through the very center of the fiber, called the core.5

Light is reflected into the core from its surrounding cladding, which is made up of an optical material. To protect both the core and cladding from damage, a plastic buffer encloses the two.5

There are two types of fiber optic cables: multimode fiber and single-mode fiber. Multimode fiber has a larger core than single mode, but carries less bandwidth and travels over shorter distances. While single-mode fibers allow only one data stream to travel, multimode fiber allows multiple data streams to transmit because it uses multiple light sources.6

Why choose fiber instead of copper

Although fiber is initially more expensive than copper, communications companies are building and converting to fiber-optic networks. Overall, fiber can be more cost effective, as it can transport larger amounts of data over longer distances faster than other mediums. Many communications companies use a fiber-optic network to connect central offices because fiber can offer bandwidth thousands of times greater than copper.7


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This post was written by the Beacon team.

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