Optical fibers transmit signals on light waves at the speed of light. Its other benefits are wide bandwidth and low loss. It’s much faster than a coaxial cable or twisted pair with far greater bandwidth and much lower loss.
Fiber optics make the implementation and expansion of the 5G wireless network possible. There are millions of miles of fiber optic cables that connect all those 5G devices across the country and around the world.
This article covers the increasing speeds of fiber optics networks and the advantages and disadvantages of fiber optic cables.
The Relentless March to Higher Speeds
The demand for streaming Internet services exploded during the COVID pandemic and stay-at-home lockdowns. Fortunately, Internet speeds had increased substantially even before the lockdown. Here are a few stats on top broadband speeds to put that into perspective.
- 2007 — 16 Mbps
- 2009 — 50 Mbps
- 2011 — 100 Mbps
- 2013 — 505 Mbps
- 2015 — 1 Gbps
- 2017 — 2 Gbps
The future expectation is 10 Gbps, yet Google already has one cable with a speed of 60 Tbps. Yet another data point is that 88% of U.S. homes currently have access to 1 Gbps.
To put this into perspective beyond gigabits, National Geographic states that the latest transatlantic cable can transmit 100 hours of digital video or 30 million phone calls in one second. The Pacific Light Cable Network will also be laying 8,000 miles of fiber from Hong Kong to Los Angeles with a 144 terabyte capacity.
Fiber Optic Advantages
These advances in fiber optics speeds and bandwidth also come with several other significant advantages.
- Low cost. Fiber optic cables are made from glass rather than much more expensive copper.
- Lightweight. Their glass construction means they are also lightweight.
- Thinner. They are also thinner, allowing installation in tight spaces and bundling of several fibers into a single cable.
- Low signal loss. Copper cables have a signal loss that increases over distance. Fiber optic losses are there but at a much lower level.
- Long life span. Fiber optic cables are quite durable; some estimates are that they can last for over 100 years.
- Secure. With fiber optics, the light signal is kept within the fiber. This eliminates interference with nearby cables and means that eavesdroppers can’t pick up signals. This also means fiber optic cables are resistant to interference.
Fiber Optic Disadvantages
Along with the advantages come a few disadvantages.
- Costly and Complex Trenching. While fiber cables are light and durable, they can be damaged when twisted or bent. Plus, splicing requires special tools. They need to be buried, which takes time, skill, and money.
- Inline Amplification. They need inline amplification every 50 to 60 miles. This, in turn, requires the expense of shelters, gear, and ongoing maintenance.
- Low-Power Light Source. The units that generate the light are all relatively low power. That’s the reason behind the need for inline amplification.
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