Do you remember those days when it took 7 hours to download a high-quality 180MB MP3 album? Now you can download the same in less than a minute! Have you also observed that there is lesser lag or latency when you play online games? Don’t they make you wonder what can be the reason behind these high download and upload speeds? Well, fiber optics is the technology that has revolutionized communication and has increased bandwidth dramatically. Fiber technology enables Internet providers to offer much greater connectivity with decreased network congestion, and faster on-demand video streaming.
What is Fiber Optic Communication?
Fiber optic communication is a communication technology that uses fiber optic cables for data transmission. Fiber-optic cables, also known as light-pipes, are designed to transmit digital data and information in the form of light signals over long distances with very little loss. These cables are made from bundles of optical fibers which are long, thin strands of pure glass, each strand being nearly as thin as human hair. A high quality communication cable is made of glass or silicon dioxide. Normally, we think glass is brittle and can break easily, but when it is made thinner than a human hair, it becomes very flexible and strong. You can also find fiber-optic cables made of plastic, which are used for very short distance (a few meters) communication, for example, that is used in hi-fi systems to carry audio information.
Fiber Optic Relay System
A Fiber Optic relay system consists of the following four parts:
- Transmitter – A transmitter produces and encodes the light signals. It receives and directs the optical device to turn the light on and off in the correct sequence, thereby generating a light signal.
- Optical fiber – Optical fiber conducts light signals over a distance.
- Optical Regenerator- When light is transmitted through the fiber, some signal loss occurs, especially over long distances. Therefore, one or more optical regenerators are used along the cable to boost the weak light signals so that they can be transmitted over transmit it over long distances. The regenerator consists of optical fibers with a special doped coating which is pumped with a laser. When the degraded signal comes in contact with the doped coating, the energy from the laser makes the doped molecules become lasers themselves and then they emit a new, stronger light signal with the same characteristics as the incoming weak light signal.
- Optical Receiver – The optical receiver takes the incoming digital light signals, decodes them into a readable form. It then sends the electrical signal to the user’s end device which may be a computer, TV or telephone.
Where is Fiber-Optic Communication Mainly Used?
Fiber optic communication has lots of uses. Fiber-optic cable is a great invention as it offers no interference, has massive transmission speed, and the same cable can be easily used to carry voice, television, internet, and telephone calls.
The Internet uses fiber optic cables. It is a perfect application, because the Internet sends data in ones and zeros and the fiber optic cables digitally send this data. Telephones were one of the first uses for fiber optics. Digital television or cable TV is often transmitted by fiber optic cables. Other uses are medical imaging and mechanical inspection.
Aircrafts use fiber-optic cables to transmit data since they cannot risk any electrical interference during data transmission. Since fiber cables are very flexible, they are used in many flexible digital cameras for medical imaging in bronchoscopes, endoscopes, and laparoscopes. For mechanical imaging, fiber is used for inspecting mechanical welds in pipes and engines, and for plumbing, it’s used to inspect sewer lines.
Fiber optic cables with optical regenerators can be used for long distance communications. They can be placed in buildings, buried in the ground or even placed in the ocean. Though fiber optic cables can break and accidentally tear during the digging process, they can also be repaired using a technique called splicing.
Manifold Benefits of Fiber Optic Communication
Compared to conventional coaxial copper or metallic cables, fiber optic cables have several advantages:
- Tougher and more immune to EMI (electromagnetic interference): Optic fiber cables are very tough and don’t corrode. Unlike copper cables, data transmission through fiber optic cables is not affected, distorted, or lost by EMI . Here, digital signals are transmitted as light instead of current and can carry signals through places where EMI would block or distort transmission.
- Data security: Since fiber optics do not radiate electromagnetic energy, so emissions cannot be intercepted. Physically tapping into fiber optic data is a tough job. Thus, fiber optic cable is a more secured medium to carry sensitive data and offer better data security.
- Higher carrying capacity: Because optical fibers are thinner than copper wires, more fibers can be bundled into a certain diameter of cable compared to copper wires. This allows more phone lines to go over the same cable or more channels to come through the cable to your business or home.
- Ease of installation: Conventional cables become thicker and more rigid if their transmission capacities are increased. Such thick cables are sometimes difficult to install in existing buildings through narrow walls and cable ducts. Fiber cables on the other hand are easier to install as they are thinner, light weight, and more flexible. They can also run along the same routes as electric cables without getting affected by electrical interference or noise.
- Achieve higher bandwidth over long distances: Fiber optics have larger information carrying capacity compared to coaxial cables. They can carry high speed signals over longer distances. Generally, coaxial cables have a bandwidth parameter of a few MHz/km, where as fiber optic cables have approximately a bandwidth of 400MHz/km. This factor makes fiber optic cables appropriate for data communications.
- Non-flammable: Because only light signals pass through the fiber optic cables and no electricity is passed through them, there are lesser chances of fire hazards.
Though fiber optic cables are cheaper than coaxial cables, the allied equipment and instruments required for setting up the fiber optic communication system make this arrangement more costly. So, in ordinary environments or for shorter distances, it is not practical to use fiber optics to transmit data. But where secured, noise free transmission is required over large distances, fiber optic communication is the best option.