Article September 24, 2018
Optical fiber is used as a medium for telecommunication and computer networking because it is flexible and can be bundled as cables. It is especially advantageous for long-distance communications, because light propagates through fiber with much lower attenuation compared to electrical cables. This allows long distances to be spanned with few repeaters. For short-distance applications, such as a network in an office building, fiber-optic cabling can save space in cable ducts. This is because a single fiber can carry much more data than electrical cables such as standard category 5 Ethernet cabling, which typically runs at 100 Mbit/s or 1 Gbit/s speeds. Fiber is also immune to electrical interference; there is no cross-talk between signals in different cables and no pickup of environmental noise. Non-armoured fiber cables do not conduct electricity, which makes fiber a good solution for protecting communications equipment in high voltage environments, such as power generation facilities, or metal communication structures prone to lightning strikes.
They can also be used in environments where explosive fumes are present, without danger of ignition. Wiretapping (in this case, fiber tapping) is more difficult compared to electrical connections, and there are concentric dual-core fibers that are said to be tap-proof. Fibers are often also used for short-distance connections between devices. For example, most high-definition televisions offer a digital audio optical connection. This allows the streaming of audio over light, using the TOSLINK protocol.
The Internet was cleverly designed to ferry any kind of information for any kind of use; it’s not limited to carrying computer data. While telephone lines once carried the Internet, now the fiber-optic Internet carries telephone (and Skype) calls instead. Where telephone calls were once routed down an intricate patchwork of copper cables and microwave links between cities, most long-distance calls are now routed down fiber-optic lines. Vast quantities of fiber were laid from the 1980s onward; estimates vary wildly, but the worldwide total is believed to be several hundred million kilometres (enough to cross the United States about a million times). In the mid-2000s, it was estimated that as much as 98 percent of this was unused “dark fiber”; today, although much more fiber is in use, it’s still generally believed that most networks contain anywhere from a third to a half dark fiber.
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