Fibre optic cable is made of strands of glass thinner than a human hair. It has already revolutionised data and voice communications, with fibre cables providing faster more reliable communications around the world.
For corporate networks too, fibre cabling offers fast, reliable communication and minimal risk of eavesdropping or interference from cross talk. Compared to copper, fibre offers the ability to transmit information faster over longer distances.
When it first appeared, fibre was expensive, but as with all technology it has fallen in price as it has become more widely used. So, how is fibre going to impact our lives in the near future?
Broadband service providers are already offering consumers faster internet connections through the use of fibre. Mostly, however, this is FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) where a fibre optic backbone from the exchange runs to a street cabinet and the signal continues its journey to your home over conventional copper cables.
The inclusion of this copper element limits the speeds that your connection can attain and the further you are from the cabinet, the worse the problem is. If the Government is to achieve its stated aim of rolling out gigabit broadband to most of the country, then we’ll see more places served by Fibre to the Premises (FTTP).
While FTTC is able to reach over 85 per cent of the UK population, FTTP is only available to around two per cent. This is falling behind other advanced nations, with 70 per cent of Japanese users and 60 per cent of those in Spain able to access FTTP.
Interestingly, the roll-out of the 5G mobile network is likely to drive the expansion of fibre. Although 5G data uses wireless connections, its higher speeds mean that the cell sites serving it will need to be linked by fibre optic cabling in order to provide the necessary bandwidth.
Something else driving our insatiable demand for data – and therefore for fibre connections – is the increase in the number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. It’s estimated that there will be more than 64 billion IoT devices worldwide by 2025 with 127 new devices coming online every second.
The IoT is about more than being able to ask Alexa what time it is. It covers a whole range of other devices too, from smart TVs to connected cars, plus medical devices and a whole range of infrastructure such as smart energy meters. Once again, all of these things will need to throw data around in order to work and that means they will need fast connections to the internet.
The increased use of artificial intelligence is a factor too. Machine learning and big data allow businesses to better understand their consumers and serve their needs. But again, this relies on large volumes of data and being able to move and process that quickly reinforces the need for fibre connections.
The more we use data in all areas of our lives, the greater the focus is on keeping it secure. Here again, fibre has major advantages over older technologies. Traditional cables carry their data signals as electricity and are therefore vulnerable to eavesdropping by ‘listening in’ to the signal. They can also be subject to cross-talk interference from other cables and devices nearby.
Fibre is not vulnerable to these problems, making it virtually impossible to intercept or interfere with data in transit. Another advantage is that lightning won’t affect fibre optic cables, so they are less likely to be affected by bad weather.
Fibre with a twist
Fibre optics, as we know, use light carried along a glass strand. The outside of the glass has a reflective coating so that the light can bounce from side to side as it goes along, allowing the fibre to turn corners, although fibre cables don’t like to be curved too tightly.
New research from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia, however, is able to twist light into a spiral. This will allow existing fibre to carry more information and therefore deliver higher speeds of up to 100 times faster than at present by making more efficient use of existing infrastructure.
Fibre optic cables offer benefits in terms of speed, bandwidth and security. As the technology develops, these advantages will only grow, making it a worthwhile investment not just for now but for the foreseeable future. If you are planning any new networking or communication projects then the light at the end of the fibre is definitely a bright one.