Today’s technology lets us call someone on the telephone or send an email to anyone with an email address and Internet connection, instantly. People’s lives are more connected than ever through the Internet and other technologies that make communication easier than it has ever been. But have you ever wondered what makes this possible?
Tied By Fibers
Since the development of fiber optic cables, fiber has become the preferred method for transporting nearly every kind of information around the world. Fiber optic cables are stretched out across the world, even traveling underneath oceans, creating a huge network of cables sending information across continents. According to an article written by Thomas B. Allen for National Geographic, the United States alone is estimated to have about 35 million miles of fiber optic cables connecting the country. Each cable is capable of transferring about 4-8 terabits of information every second. That is equal to about 68,000 hours of music or 2000 hours of movies per second.
What Are Fibers?
So how are these cables able to transfer so much information in such little time? The fibers that make up each cable make this possible. Inside each cable there are over a hundred fiber strands of purified glass, each thinner than a human hair. A laser on one end of the fiber flashes several billion times every second, with every flash signifying either a 1 or 0. The light travels through the glass, reflecting off the walls of the glass until it reaches a device on the other end of the cable that converts the laser flashes into binary code that can be read by computers.
Another way of understanding how the laser travels through the fiber is to imagine what happens when you shine a light into a stream of water. Imagine shining a flashlight, in the dark, at the bottom of a bottle of water as you start to pour out the water. As the water exits the bottle, you can see the light traveling with the stream, even as the stream of water bends. This phenomenon is what inspired Jean-Daniel Colladon to first create the idea of fiber optics in the 1840’s.
Fiber vs. Copper
There are many networks today that still use copper cables instead of fiber optic cables, although copper cables are not as effective or efficient as fiber. There are several reasons for upgrading to fiber optic cables. The main advantage is that fibers can send information much faster than copper, and the technology is still developing, meaning that even faster transfer speeds are possible in the future. When sending information over large distances, the signal begins to fade and requires an amplifier to regenerate the signal in order to reach its destination. Fiber optic cables experience less signal loss than copper, which means they do not need as much amplification. Copper cables can sometimes produce electromagnetic interference, which can disrupt the network. Also called “alien talk,” this happens when copper and phone cables are placed too close to each other. Because fiber cables only use light, they do not create the same interference. Fiber optic cables are also much more durable than copper cables and do not need to be replaced as often.
Fiber cables have their shortcomings as well. They can be fragile if they are improperly installed. They are also a more expensive investment than copper cables initially. However the increased efficiency and reduced need for maintenance help save money long term and make fiber optic cables a much better option than copper.
The Future of Fiber
Fiber optic cables have made communication throughout the world easier than ever and the technology continues to develop. In 2014, Dutch and American scientists worked together to create a new kind of fiber optic cable that can send information 2,550 times faster than the current fiber optic cables being used. That could mean downloading entire movies in less than a second. The scientists even believe that this new cable can carry the entire Internet by itself. According to one of the scientists, the new cable is capable of “allowing 21 times more bandwidth than currently available in communication networks.” Although this technology is not yet ready for widespread use, this shows just how quickly fiber optic cables are developing and the kind of impact they will continue to have on our lives. This is an exciting time for all of us, and as these technologies continue to develop, it is more important than ever to make sure we all keep up with them.
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