Every form of long distance communication involves some form of encoded energy.
Every form of long distance communication involves some form of encoded energy. Copper cables transmit pulses of electricity, while wireless communications rely on radio waves. Since nothing moves faster than visible light, it follows that encoding light to carry packets of data from one point to another would be the best way to meet the world’s ever growing demand for bandwidth.
This is why fiber optics were developed --- to act as a conduit for photons to travel through. Fiber optics are glass strands, thinner than a human hair, that conduct a laser signal between two points, transmitting data at a faster speed than any other form of long distance communication.
Structure and composition
There are multiple optical fibers inside a typical fiber optics cable. They need structural reinforcement, which is provided with a steel cable at the core. An outer cladding, made with germanium or phosphorus, keeps the photons inside the fiber.
The fibers themselves are made of silicon dioxide, although small amounts of other chemicals can be added by manufacturers.Silicon dioxide, commonly known as silica, is a mineral occurring in quartz deposits. Quartz is the constituent of sand that turns to glass under intense heat. While sand can be used in traditional glass blowing, it contains too many impurities for fiber optics. Fiber optics are made with a synthetic silica. The purer and more transparent the glass is, the faster light will propagate through it, and the more data can be crammed through a single strand --- which means more bandwidth.
Manufacturing & production
Optical fibers are drawn out of a precisely crafted glass cylinder known as a preform. The preform, of course, is made of silica. The preform is built up in layers, deposited in a carefully controlled pattern. Gasses containing silicon dioxide are sent through a heated tube, and the silicon dioxide gathers on the inside walls of the tube, forming a new cylinder, made of glass, inside the existing tube.
Once proper thickness is attained, an individual fiber can be drawn out of the preform. The preform is moved into a vertical drawing system. Under intense heat, a gob forms, like a droplet of water. As it drops, the gob draws a single strand of molten glass out of the tube. The glass strand begins to solidify immediately as it draws out of the preform. Once it hardens, the strand can be manually drawn out and wound onto a spool. A single strand can be hundreds of miles long
A fast advancing industry
The initial cost of installing fiber optics is still relatively high in some applications, but when considering cost, there’s much more to the picture than the installation. Other mediums, like copper cabling, become obsolete in as little as just a few years, which means future installation costs.
When productivity relies on connectivity, the overhead that comes with choosing fiber optics is quickly recovered. On top of all that, the field of fiber optics production is constantly advancing. Hopefully, this will result in wider availability, cheaper production, and better connectivity for internet users.
Still, there are applications where copper or coaxial cable are the more sensible solution. A lot variables play into making the best decision on which materials to use, and its one of the major decisions when it comes to telecomms installations. Working with experienced engineers will help you make sure all factors are being considered.
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