A Simple History of Fiber Optic Technology

Posted by Doug Schwartz on 10/27/14 7:00 AM

Let me take you on a journey back in time. Copper cable, of which we are all extremely familiar and comfortable with and which we originally experimented with in the 1750’s, really came on the scene back in the 1820’s with the invention of the electromagnet and the telegraph system. And from that day on, everything that utilized an electrical or electronic signal used copper to carry it to and fro. By the way, copper has been in use at least 10,000 years, but more than 96% of all copper ever mined and smelted has been extracted since 1900, and more than half was extracted in only the last 24 years.

Pulling Copper CablesHowever, as the population continued to grow and with the advent of a device called the telephone in 1876, so did our demand for copper cabling. That need, and as it grew, helped generate some of the greatest technological breakthroughs so that copper could do more and more for us. From analog (continually variable) signals to digital (on or off, 1 or 0) signals used today. I won’t bore you with all the details, but have you ever thought about how that last phone call you made wound up being received by the one person it was intended for, when tens of millions of other people were doing the same thing at exactly the same time?

Fiber optic technology is not all that new either; it’s just that you’re not familiar with it, or at least not as familiar as you are with a copper cable. The first optical possibilities were demonstrated in London in 1840! Even Alexander Graham Bell in 1880 transmitted voice signals over an optical beam.

Time to recap:

Here are the differences between a copper cable and a fiber optic cable; copper cables in its most basic form utilizes an electrical voltage to represent the information it carries, whereas fiber optical cables use light to carry theirs. I know this is a very simple analogy, but that is its intent.

Did you Know?

In the early 1960's the founders of the FiberPlex brand began working with some of the first LEDs ever made along with prototype fibers from corning for US Government secure communications applications.

As scientists and engineers continued the development of optical fiber and lasers as the light source, some amazing things started to happen. In 1963, a Japanese scientist proposed the use of optical fibers for communications. By 1965, the first patent was issued. Here’s some trivia for you: NASA used fiber optics in the television cameras that were sent to the moon. At the time, the use in the cameras was classified confidential, and only those with sufficient security clearance or those accompanied by someone with the right security clearance were permitted to handle the cameras.

The rush to explore the capabilities of light was on… But, it wasn’t until 1970, when scientists working at Corning, developed an optical fiber so pure that it had less attenuation (loss of signal) than its copper counterpart. By 1981, we had developed the ability to draw strands of glass that were 25 miles long. From that point on, there has been no stopping the optical fiber revolution.

Without fiber optics and the electronics that drives it, there would be no Internet, no telephones, no fax machines (what’s a fax machine away), no video on demand, no television, no stock trades, no texting, no life as we know it! What is fiber optic technology...? Simply, the future.

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Topics: Copper Cable, Fiber 101