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How Does Fiber Optic Internet Work

Brandon Greene
Posted by Brandon Greene on Sep 14, 2021 10:52:22 AM

Fiber Optic Internet

How Does Fiber Optic Work?

A massive network of fiber optic cables across the globe forms the backbone of today's fast and reliable internet. And over the past few years, word has been going around that fiber optic internet is the next big thing in the industrial revolution—it's the future of broadband.

Are you curious about this buzz on fiber internet? Let's find out more about it in this article.

What Is Fiber Internet?

Let's begin by defining what fiber optic internet is.

In a nutshell, we can say fiber optic internet, also known as fiber internet, is internet that uses strands of fiber cables instead of copper wires to transmit information as pulses of light over long distances.

In the past, computer networks and other forms of data communication systems were dominated by Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) and copper cables. However, things started changing in the 1970s after the successful completion of experiments that proved it was possible to transfer signals using light traveling through a strand of glass over a long distance.

Today, most data exchanges on the Internet and local networks are transmitted through fiber optic cables. These cables connect users to huge servers operated by tech giants such as Google.

History of Fiber Optic

The development of fiber optic cables started back in the 19th century with simple experiments involving a beam of light and a water pipe. Scientists were fascinated to observe that light introduced into water flowing through a pipe at a certain angle was able to navigate through without losing its form and intensity. 

They discovered that the light was continually bouncing off the edges of the stream of water until it emerged from the other end without losing any property. This phenomenon is called total internal reflection.

The edges of the water act like a mirror that reflects the light back, thereby maintaining it within the stream.

As the industrial revolution continued, subsequent experiments replaced water with strands of glass which produced the same results. Development and refinement of this concept culminated in the manufacture of fiber optic cables.

Charles Kao conducted a life-changing experiment in the 1960s that revealed a strand made of pure glass would carry signals over a long distance compared to impure glass. He won the 2009 Physics Nobel Prize for this breakthrough.

Following Kao's groundbreaking discovery, companies started commercial production of fiber optic cables, and the first fiber optic telephone line was laid in California in 1977. This was the beginning of the end of copper lines that were the primary data transmission cables.

Later in 1988, the first transatlantic fiber telephone cable was laid to connect the US, France, and the UK. And since then, fiber optic has found its way into different parts of the world, creating sustainable and reliable internet.

How Does Fiber Internet Work?

Fiber optic cables bundle together a few to hundreds of thin strands of glass fiber that carry data in the form of pulses of light.  At the ingestion point, a light-emitting diode or laser is used to load data into a beam of light by converting electrical signals from a computer into pulses of light.

The receiving computer or server must be connected to a photocell that decodes the information by converting the light pulses back to electrical signals that the computer understands.

Fiber optic cables transfer light in two primary ways;

  • Single-Mode

Single-mode fiber, also known as uni-mode or mono-mode fiber, uses ultra-thin glass fiber to transmit data. Here, a beam of light travels straight through the middle of the fiber. Single-mode fiber optic is mostly used for Cable TV and telephone lines. Light in single-mode fiber optic travels farther than in multi-mode.

  • Multi-Mode

Multi-mode uses thicker fiber optic cables that carry multiple different signals at a go. Here, light is introduced at shallow angles (less than 42 degrees). This technique ensures that light bounces off the edges of the glass fiber (total internal reflection) as it moves through it.

Multi-mode fiber optic cables are mainly used for short distances computer networks.

Multi-mode fiber also finds application in the manufacture of gastroscopes, gadgets used by doctors to illuminate and treat internal organs without the need for surgery.  

Structure of Fiber Optic Cable

A fiber optic cable has three primary layers:

  • Core 

At the center of a fiber optic cable is the core. This is a single strand of glass fiber or a bundle of them (depending on the type and purpose of the cable). Pulses of light that carry data pass through the core.

  • Cladding

The core is surrounded by cladding. The cladding is a layer of material with a lower refractive index than the core. This layer insulates light from leaking out of the core.

  • Outer Jacket

Both the core and the cladding are wrapped with an outer jacket. This is a layer made of tough material that protects the underlying layers (the core and cladding) from damage.

Types of Fiber Optic Internet Connection

Here are the different types of fiber internet:

  1. Fiber To The Home/Premises (FTTH/FTTP)

Typically, FTTH/FTTP is the most ideal form of connection when it comes to fiber optic internet. It offers you the fastest Internet because it uses uninterrupted pure fiber optic cable from the server(s) to your home/premise's internet box. However, fiber to the home internet can be expensive to install. This is because if your home isn't already set up for a fiber connection, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may be required to dig or drill holes nearby to support the connection.

  1. Fiber To The Building (FTTB)

This kind of connection is most suited for apartment dwellers. The Internet Service Provider installs a fiber optic terminal in a common area within the building. Individual consumers then use wire cables to complete connections to their homes. 

  1. Fiber To The Neighborhood (FTTN)

FTTN connection is commonly associated with fiber internet provided by a local authority such as a municipal or county council. A fiber optic connection node is installed at a central point within a residential area.  Individual residents then complete the connection to their homes using coaxial wire or copper cables. 

The fiber optic connection nodes are mainly placed within a 1000 ft radius of the targeted area. This mitigates the shortcomings of wire cables for the user on the outer ring.

Advantages of Fiber Optic Internet Over Dsl And Copper Internet

  • Attenuation

The greatest shortcoming of sharing data through traditional DSL and copper cables comes from heating and interference associated with electromagnetic waves. However, this problem is non-existent in fiber optic cables since data is carried in the form of light pulses.

Signals sent through copper lines tend to weaken after some distance necessitating the installation of repeaters at intervals along the line to clean and boost the signal. But with fiber internet, you rarely experience such signal losses.

  • Interference

If you watched cable TV before the proliferation of digital broadcasting, you're probably familiar with a scenario where one channel superimposes on another, or worse still yourTV becomes grainy with distorted sounds.

This phenomenon is called 'crosstalk' and is caused by one signal straying into another's path as they travel together. Signal interference reduces the bandwidth of the wire. But thanks to fiber internet, interference is now a thing of the past.

  • Bandwidth

Fiber optic cables have a high data-carrying capacity compared to traditional DSLs, coaxial, and copper cables. The fact that light travels at higher frequency than electromagnetic waves makes it possible for fiber internet to load more signals.

Fiber optic cables carry roughly 100 times more data than wire cables. 

  • Speed

Fiber optic cables rank high when it comes to speed. These cables deliver data at 100 times the speed of DSL and copper cables. Download and upload speeds in fiber optic cables are symmetrical. The rate of data transfers reaches 1000 megabits per second (1gbps).

  • 'Silent' signal

Copper cables are susceptible to sabotage as the electromagnetic waves produced are detectable. On the other hand, light that travels through fiber optic cables is 'silent' and totally undetectable. This makes them ideal for military installations.

Drawbacks of Fiber Internet

The cons of using fiber optic internet include:

  • Upfront Installation Costs

Installation of fiber internet comes with huge upfront installation costs, which has slowed down its growth over the years. So, compared to other forms of transmission, the upfront costs associated with fiber internet may scare you, especially if you're working on a tight budget.

  • Fiber Fuse

A fiber fuse occurs when too much light comes across an imperfection in the fiber. A fiber fuse is highly destructive and can cause damage to long lengths of cable within a very short time.

How to Get Fiber Internet

Here's how you can get fiber internet:

  1. Internet Service Providers

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are the primary agents for the expansion of fiber optic internet. They allocate end-users access to their internet resources in terms of connection speeds or a fixed amount of data depending on the plan. 

ISPs make money by apportioning their fiber optic bandwidth to consumers. And therefore, they strive to increase their fiber optic internet coverage to get more clients and generate good proceeds. 

2Municipal fiber internet

Public entities managing a given locality, such as a town or municipality, can also provide their residents access to the fiber optic internet. They can do so by extending fiber optic cables to their area of jurisdiction.

Impact of Fiber of Fiber Optic Internet on the World

The Fiber Optic Internet has transformed the world of computing, telecommunication and entertainment in unimaginable ways. Connection speeds have gone up, bandwidth increased, and coverage expanded. 

Today, no one in the world can realistically claim not to have reaped the benefits of fiber optic Internet. Governments and private entities across the world have put in efforts to connect every city to the high-speed fiber optic Internet. 

These efforts have seen around 406 high-capacity fiber optic cables laid across the oceans and seas to help bring the world together. The water-water fiber optic cables cover approximately 1.2 kilometers.

Fiber Optic Internet unmatched broadband has benefited all sectors of the economy and opened the world to new opportunities. Outlined below are some of the sectors that have adopted the use of fiber internet.

  • Entertainment

In the entertainment industry, digital broadcasting has become a success giving millions of global citizens almost unlimited options of TV channels, movies, music, and a taste of other cultures.

Global news channels have benefitted by reaching virtually all corners of the world. Media consumption habits have also changed. With high-speed fiber optic Internet, people are finding it convenient to stream and store their playlists online.

  • Cloud Computing

Cloud computing has now become a reality thanks to fiber internet. This method of sharing online resources has helped organizations, as well as individuals, save on cost. With the traditional desktop computing system, many people were compelled to acquire their own storage space and computer applications that were in most cases not optimally used. 

Clouding computing came to solve this problem by allowing users to share online resources at reduced costs. However, users need high-capacity Internet to connect seamlessly with servers hosting those resources. And this is where fiber internet comes in.

  • Smart Systems

The world is now gravitating towards automation and smart systems, a concept known as  Internet of Things (IoT). This concept is Internet intensive and therefore requires a connection with milliseconds of response time. 

Self-driving cars on the road, for example, need high-speed communication between their sensors and the servers for them to recognize signs on the road and respond accordingly and in time. 

Smart homes are another form of application of IoT. More and more homes are now equipped with smart appliances that require an internet connection to function optimally. It's normal to find smart refrigerators that read weather updates to help preserve food properly. Voice command gadgets such as Alexa, Google assistant, etc., are also among the popular smart systems in most modern homes.

All of these systems wouldn't function optimally were it not for the presence of stable and reliable internet such as that provided by fiber optic internet.

  • Telecommuting

We can't discuss the applications of fiber internet without mentioning telecommuting and associated collaborations. Tools such as Skype, Zoom, Google Meet, etc. have enabled teams in regions thousands of kilometers apart to work on common projects seamlessly as if they were sitting next to each other.  

  • Telemedicine

Fiber internet has also played a vital role in the growth of telemedicine. Telemedicine has positively impacted the lives of some of the most disadvantaged people in the world. 

For example, senior doctors living have collaborated with medics in remote areas to oversee crucial surgeries and other medical operations.

Bottom Line

Fiber optic Internet has proved its case in handling the world's broadband needs. It's clear that moving forward, more efforts will be made to expand its coverage. Therefore, if you already have fiber internet, you're a step ahead in the path of industrial revolution.

And if you're yet to put your hands on fiber internet, relax, good things are on the way for you. Research on the availability of fiber internet in your locality and contact the relevant bodies.

Topics: IT Services

Brandon Greene

Brandon Greene

  • bgreene@aopinc.com

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