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17 Mar 2023

Optical Fiber Communication: How It Works And Why It Matters



In the modern world, staying connected is key. Communication has never been easier, from using our phones to access the internet to communicating with people on the other side of the globe. But how does optical fibre communication work, and why is it so important? Read this article to find out!

Introduction to Optical Fiber Communication

As data demands grow, so do the challenges for today’s network operators. They need to move increasingly more data over longer distances with greater reliability. At the same time, they need to minimise costs while meeting increasing demands for energy efficiency.

One promising solution is optical fibre communication (OFC). OFC uses glass or plastic fibres to send data through pulses of light. This technology offers many advantages over traditional copper wire communication, including higher bandwidth, lower attenuation, and greater resistance to electromagnetic interference. OFC is already used in various applications, including long-haul telecommunications, cable television, and high-speed computer networking. It is also used in specialised applications such as automotive radar and medical imaging.

The Science Behind Optical Fibers

As photons travel through an optical fibre, they are constantly reflected off the walls of the fibre. This is because the core of an optical fibre is made of a material with a higher index of refraction than the cladding surrounding it. When a photon hits the boundary between these two materials, some are reflected into the core while some pass through into the cladding.

The photons that are reflected into the core are what carry information along the fibre. This process continues as the photons travel down the length of the fibre, with each photon bouncing hundreds or even thousands of times before finally reaching the end of the fibre. Optical fibres are efficient at carrying data because they can transmit data at very high speeds. The speed at which data can be transmitted through an optical fibre is limited by two things: The first is how fast photons can travel through the material making up the fibre (the index of refraction). The second is how well-aligned the individual atoms in that material are (the atomic structure).

The index of refraction for glass is about 1.5, which means that light travels through the glass at about two-thirds of its speed in a vacuum. However, thanks to advances in manufacturing, modern optical fibres have indices of refraction as high as 1.7. Light can travel through them at about 80% of their speed in a vacuum, making them much faster than traditional copper cables.

Benefits of Using Optical Fiber Communication

Here are some of the benefits of using fibre optic communication:

  1. Increased speed: Fiber optic cables can carry more data than traditional copper cables. This means fibre optic networks offer much higher speeds than copper-based networks.
  2. Greater capacity: Fiber optic cables can also create large networks with high capacity. This is perfect for applications like video streaming and online gaming, which require large amounts of data to be transferred quickly.
  3. Reduced interference: Because light does not conduct electricity, there is no risk of electrical interference with fibre optic cables. This makes them ideal for use in areas where electromagnetic interference (EMI) could be problematic, such as near power lines or hospital operating rooms.
  4. Improved security: Fiber optic cables are difficult to tap into without causing easily detectable damage. This makes them much more secure than traditional copper cables, which can be tapped into without anyone.
  5. Lower costs: While the initial cost of setting up a fibre optic network may be higher than a copper-based network, the long-term costs are often lower. This is because fibre optics are less susceptible to damage and have lower maintenance costs than copper cables.

Advantage of OFC

The speed of light in a vacuum is about 300 million meters per second (186,000 miles per second). In an optical fibre, the speed of light is slower because of the interaction between the light and the material of the fibre. However, it is still much faster than electricity can travel through a wire.

One advantage of optical fibre communication is that it can carry much more information than electrical cables. This is because multiple light colours can be used simultaneously, each carrying its data stream.

Another advantage is that optical fibres are not susceptible to electromagnetic interference (EMI). This means they can be used in environments where electrical cables would not work, such as MRI machines or near high-voltage power lines.

Challenges in Setting Up an Optical Fiber Network

One of the key challenges in setting up an optical fibre network is ensuring that the fibres are properly aligned. This can be difficult to do, especially over long distances. Additionally, connecting the fibres to the network components (e.g., routers and switches) can be challenging, as special adapters are required.

Another challenge is getting optical signals to travel around corners. Unlike copper wires, which can easily be bent, optical fibres are much more fragile and difficult to manipulate. As a result, it can be difficult to route them around obstacles in a way that doesn't introduce too much signal loss.

Finally, installing an optical fibre network can be expensive. The fibres are relatively costly, and the equipment to connect them to the network components is fairly pricey. However, the costs associated with installation and maintenance are typically lower than those for other types of networks (e.g., copper-based Ethernet), so they can still be quite cost-effective overall.

Alternatives to Optical Fiber Communication

The most common alternative is copper wire, which has been used for centuries. Copper wire is cheaper than optical fibre and can be easily installed. However, copper wire is less efficient than optical fibre and can only carry data over shorter distances.

Another alternative is wireless communication, which has become increasingly popular recently. Wireless communication is very fast and can be used over long distances. However, it is more expensive than optical fiber and can be interfered with by weather or other objects.

Finally, there is satellite communication, which is the most expensive and reliable option. Satellite communication can be used anywhere in the world and is not affected by weather or other objects. However, it requires a clear line of sight between the satellite and the user, which buildings or trees can obstruct.


We hope this article has shed some light on how optical fibre communication works and its importance in today's society. Skill-Lync offers various courses on telecommunication, including, Network design and development, cellular communication, wireless communication using MATLAB, etc. We also provide mechanical, electrical, civil, and biomedical engineering courses. Take our free demo session and book your courses now!



Navin Baskar







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