Information Technology Squared

What is fiber optics?

Fiber optics is a medium for carrying information from one point to another in the form of light.  A basic fiber optic system consists of a transmitting device, which generates the light signal; an optical fiber cable, which carries the light; and a receiver, which accepts the light signal transmitted.  Once the light pulses reach their destination they are channeled into the optical receiver.  The basic purpose of an optical receiver is to detect the received light incident on it and to convert it to an electrical signal containing the information impressed on the light at the transmitting end.  In other words the coded light pulse information is translated back into its original state as coded electronic information.  The electronic information is then ready for input into electrical based communication devices, such as a computer, telephone, or TV.

There are several advantages that have been established with the development and implementation of fiber-optic cable systems.  Compared to copper, optical fiber is relatively small in size and light in weight.  This characteristic has made it desirable as intra-floor conduits and wiring duct space have become increasingly plugged with expanded copper cable installation.

Since optical fiber has no metallic components, it can be installed in areas with electromagnetic interference (EMI), including radio frequency interference (RFI).  Areas with high EMI include utility lines, power-carrying lines, and railroad tracks.

A characteristic feature of optical fiber that has yet to be fully realized is its potentially wide bandwidth.  Bandwidth refers to the amount of information that a fiber can carry.  The greater the bandwidth, the greater the carrying capacity of the optical fiber.  Experts predict larger bandwidths than this as light frequency separation becomes available.

Unlike metallic-based systems, the dielectric nature of optical fiber makes it impossible to remotely detect the signal being transmitted within the cable.  The only way to do so is by actually accessing the optical fiber itself.  Accessing the fiber requires intervention that is easily detectable by security surveillance.  These circumstances make fiber extremely attractive to governmental bodies, banks, and others with major security concerns.

Fiber optics is affordable today, as electronics prices fall and optical cable pricing remains low.  In many cases, fiber solutions are less costly than copper.  This cost effectiveness is due to the relative ease of upgrading fiber optics to higher speeds and performance.  It has already been seen in the industry as communication providers are wiring customers with optical fiber bandwidth that exceeds consumer bandwidth needs.  It is generally accepted that customers will need increased bandwidth as the information highway grows.  Replacing copper with fiber today would avoid continued investment in a soon to be outdated copper system.  As bandwidth demands increase rapidly with technological advances, fiber will continue to play a vital role in the long-term success of telecommunications.