Fiber Optics: Next Generation Tech


  fiber optics
Stripped fiber cable.


Ever hear of fiber optics? If you haven’t, get ready for it to become a household word. Fiber has become the backbone of high-speed data communication and is considered the gold standard of residential internet connections. Fiber offers faster speeds over longer distances, outstripping its dated copper counterpart-based technologies like DSL and cable. BONUS: this tech will keep pace with future technological advancements! 20 years down the road when speeds are hundreds of times faster than now, a single fiber-optic cable will still be able to support the flow. Read on to find out some basics on the next generation technology that we get to enjoy now.


Larger than a Human Hair

Fiber-based systems use special silica-based glass fiber, which is slightly larger than a human hair, using light waves instead of electrical pulses used in copper wire. Besides numerous industrial and entertainment uses, it's ideally suited for transmitting data, voice, and video. 

An Epic Creation

Optical fiber is created by heating a pure silica hollow glass rod while special gases flow inside.  The “soot” formed by the chemical reaction to the heat becomes the core―the outer silica rod will become the outer “cladding”.  The rod is then collapsed to form a solid piece that is put through a graphite furnace and “drawn” to create a micro-thin fiber.  In optical transmission, the signal passes through the core, while a portion of it travels down the cladding.  The fiber is then encased in a plastic colored casing for protection and identification.

yellow fiber optic cable                                                                                                                          Fiber Optic Cable


Fiber vs Copper

Unlike copper, optical fiber is resistant to electrical interference (EMI), temperature extremes, corrosion, and is less susceptible to vibration.  It generally costs less to install and maintain.  Finally, it's more secure (you can't “tap” into the signal, like a copper-based line).

copper cable
Copper Cable

fiber strandsFiber Optic Strands

Light Waves

Today’s technology allows fiber to carry multiple wavelength signals spaced close together with very little frequency gap between, running both ways down a single fiber. To better visualize this, think of many different shades of color traveling through glass almost simultaneously.  However, note that light waves used in fiber communications are beyond the range visible to the human eye.

light waves chart
Wave chart.

Factors That Impact Optical Signals 

Just like copper, there are physical limitations to transmitting signals:

Dispersion - This represents the gradual weakening of the signal as it flows through the fiber, mainly due to the imperfections in the glass. 

Attenuation - Light requires power.  Once it leaves its source, distance and various other disturbances impact signal strength (like connectors, splices, and splitters).  Amplifiers can boost the signal, which requires installing powered cabinets or huts.  Good designers anticipate attenuation when building a fiber optic system.

Reflection - The cylindrical walls of the fiber act like a “mirror”, confining the signal within the fiber so it reaches its destination intact.  However, some signal is lost at the origin point, at the various fiber connection points, bends, and the destination.  Lasers cause less reflection loss than LEDs, and connectors are carefully aligned and buffed to minimize reflection loss.  Splicing (actually "welding" two fiber ends), while requiring specialized equipment and training, eliminate reflection at connection points.


Hinderances to Fiber Installation

Cost is still a factor limiting the widespread installation of fiber optics. Despite the expense, Union Wireless is committed to growing its fiber infrastructure to ensure that the Rocky Mountains remain relevant in the present and prepared to participate in all future advancements in technology.

 fiber optic repair equiptmentFiber splicing and repair equipment.

Contributed by Angelica Mecham