The Most Common Uses for Fiber Optics

December 10, 2022, Curtis Shelby 

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As communications technology continually advances, our connectivity speeds increase exponentially as well. While 9600 baud dial-up modems used to be the standard, high-speed digital fiber optics have replaced these older technologies to be the preferred medium for connections at high speeds. In fact, today’s average home has more than one connection (like cable modems, satellite, or other structured cabling types)  that is capable of transferring data at faster and faster rates. This includes Internet access and cable television service.

What is Fiber Optics?

So what exactly is Fiber Optics (Fiber for short)? The dictionary defines it this way: “A transmission line in which light waves are used instead of electrical currents.” That’s a pretty good definition, but it doesn’t tell you much about how fiber works or why we need it. To understand Fiber Optics, you must first understand what light does. Light is an electromagnetic wave. It travels through space at 186,000 miles per second, yet it can only travel a few feet before it becomes too weak to detect with the human eye. So if light cannot travel very far, then what can it do?

It can carry information! And not just any information, but extremely fast information. A single strand of optical fiber can transfer up to 10 gigabits of data per second. Compare that to copper wire, which transfers less than 1 megabit per second. Not only is fiber optic data transfer rate higher than copper wire, but it also allows for greater distances between two points. Copper wire requires repeaters every so often to boost its signal strength. Fiber optic cables do not require such repeaters because they are self-repeating.

The Invention of Fiber Optics

Fiber Optics was invented by Charles Kao in 1962. He wanted to find a way to transmit voice over long distances without using wires. His idea was to use light to send information from point A to point B. At the time, he thought that his invention would never take off since no company could afford to build enough fiber to cover their entire country. But Kao was right on target. Today, fiber optic networks span the globe and are found everywhere from large cities to rural areas.

Fast forward to today and fiber optics are used in many ways. They are used for telephone lines, CATV systems, internet access, satellite TV, and even medical applications. We will look at some of the most popular uses for fiber optic cabling below.

How Fiber Optics Works

The mechanics of a fiber optics network is as follows;

1) When light enters a fiber optic cable, it splits into multiple beams of light. Each beam carries a different wavelength of light.

2) These wavelengths are separated out and sent to individual devices called receivers.

3) When a receiver receives a particular wavelength of light, it converts it back into electricity.

4) The receiver sends the converted electricity back to the transmitter where it gets converted back into light.

5) The transmitted light is now ready to be received again by another device.

6) This process repeats itself until all of the signals reach their destination.

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Because fiber optic lines contain glass fibers, they are immune to outside interference like radio frequency noise, static, and EMI. In fact, fiber optic cables have been shown to withstand lightning strikes and earthquakes. Because of these qualities, fiber optic cables are ideal for carrying high speed data transmissions.

The Primary Uses for Fiber Optics

Nowadays, fiber optics is mostly used for telecommunications purposes. However, there are other important uses for fiber optic technology including video conferencing, remote sensing, and data storage. Let’s explore each one of them.

Telecommunications

As mentioned earlier, fiber optics has become the standard method of transmitting data across vast distances. Companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast all rely heavily on fiber optic cables to provide reliable communications.

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is a great example of how fiber optic technology is being used to help people communicate with each other. With fiber optic connections, you can connect to someone who lives far away or even in another state. You don't need to worry about losing your connection when moving around.

Remote Sensing

Remote sensing is an excellent application for fiber optic technology. It allows scientists to collect information from places that are hard to get to. For instance, NASA uses this type of technology to gather information about our planet's weather patterns.

Data Storage

Another great use for fiber optic technology is data storage. Many companies store huge amounts of data on servers and computers. To do this, they use fiber optic cables to carry the data between the server and the computer.

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Fiber Optics Vs. Wireless 5G

Fiber networks are often compared to the latest in wireless 5G data transmissions. Both technologies allow users to send and receive large amounts of data over long distances without having to physically plug things together. But what makes fiber optics so superior?

Speed

One major difference between fiber optic networks and wireless 5G networks is speed. While wireless 5G networks can transfer data at speeds up to 1 gigabit per second (1 Gbps), fiber optic networks can transfer data at much faster rates.

Reliability

Wireless 5G networks are susceptible to interference from objects such as buildings and trees. These factors make it difficult to maintain a strong signal. On the other hand, fiber optic networks are not affected by these issues because they are made out of glass.

Cost

Wireless 5G networks require a lot of equipment and maintenance. This means that the initial cost of setting up a network can be very expensive. Fiber optic networks, however, are relatively inexpensive. They also offer better reliability than wireless 5G networks.

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So which one should you choose? Well, if you're looking for a reliable way to transmit data over long distances, then fiber optic networks will definitely be the best option. If you want something that is more affordable and easy to set up, then wireless 5G networks may be a good choice.

How A Fiber Optic Cable Is Made

When manufacturing fiber optic cable, the first step is to prepare the material. The raw materials needed include:

Silica Glass - The main ingredient in optical fibers. Silica glass is extremely brittle and fragile, but it's also incredibly strong.

Sodium Hydroxide - Also known as lye, sodium hydroxide is a chemical compound that dissolves silica into water.

Sodium Chloride - Used to prevent moisture from entering the fiber during processing.

Potassium Sulfate - Helps protect the fiber from damage caused by exposure to air.

Potassium Nitrate - Acts as a stabilizer.

Hydrofluoric Acid - Removes impurities from the glass.

Acetone - Cleans the surface of the glass.

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In order to manufacture the fiber, each component must be mixed with the others. Once all of the ingredients have been combined, the mixture is heated until it becomes liquid. Then it's poured into molds where it cools and solidifies. After cooling, the fiber is pulled through a series of machines that remove any excess material. Finally, the finished product is polished using chemicals and sandpaper.

The Most Common Uses For Fiber Optics

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There are many different ways that fiber optic cables can be used. Some of the most popular applications include:

Telecommunications

  1. Data transmission is the primary use for fiber optic cables. Because of their high bandwidth, fiber optic cables are an excellent way to move large amounts of information quickly.
  2. Fiber-to-the-Home
  3. With the rise of Internet services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, there has been a surge in demand for home broadband internet connections. To meet this growing need, companies are developing new technologies that allow people to connect their homes to the internet wirelessly.

Construction & Demolition

  1. During construction projects, workers often need to cut holes in walls or ceilings. In order to do so safely, they use fiber optic cables to guide them around obstacles.

Oil & Gas Exploration

  1. Oil and gas exploration companies are constantly searching for new sources of oil and natural gas. When drilling for oil and gas, engineers use fiber optics to help them find underground deposits.

Military Applications

  1. Fiber optic technology is being used in military applications because of its great strength and durability. It's also resistant to electromagnetic interference and is unaffected by extreme temperatures.

Industrial Applications

  1. Because of their ability to carry huge amounts of data at very fast speeds, fiber optic cables are perfect for industrial applications. They can be used to monitor machinery, measure temperature, track inventory, and even control robots.

Energy Industry

  1. Because of their ability to transmit vast amounts of data over long distances, fiber optic cables are ideal for transmitting power between remote locations. This allows utilities to deliver electricity more efficiently and reduces the risk of outages.

Medical Applications

  1. Fiber optic cables are commonly used in medical applications such as imaging devices, surgical microscopes, and other diagnostic equipment.

Spacecraft Communications

  1. Communications satellites rely on fiber optic cable to send and receive signals. As these spacecraft travel across the sky, they pass through areas of extremely low or no radio frequency (RF) coverage. By using fiber optic cables, satellite operators can provide reliable communications anywhere in the world.

Manufacturing

  1. In manufacturing facilities, fiber optic cables are used to transport materials from one place to another. These cables are especially useful when transporting small quantities of items because they require less space than traditional cabling methods.

Fiber Optics IS The Future of Communications

Despite being very similar to Wireless 5G in many ways, Fiber optics is actually much better for your health and well-being. Fiber optics have lower energy consumption rates, which means you’re not wasting energy when it comes to wireless communication. Also, fiber optics are more secure, since they don’t interfere with other electronic devices.

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With so many benefits and uses, fiber optics is the future of communications. If you want to learn more about how Shelby Communications installs fiber for our clients, be sure and call or email us today!

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