Fiber optic, also known as optical fiber, is a reference to both the material as well as the technology that is associated with transmitting information as light impulses. These light impulses travel along a glass fiber or plastic wire. Using fiber optic wire to carry information means that much more information can be carried and it is less likely to suffer from any sort of electromagnetic interference. In general it is considered superior to the more conventional copper wire in this regard. So much so that the vast majority of long distance telephone lines are made with fiber optic cable.
Because installing fiber optic cables and wires can be quite labor intensive few communities actually have exclusively fiber optic cables for their the local loop (where the phone company’s cables branch off to local customers). At least that used to be the case.
Fiber Optic Networks
For decades fiber optic networks have transmitted large volumes of data all over the country. But now the economics of fiber networks have recently allowed for homes to be connect to fiber optic directly. This has created a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network.
Anyone using the Internet uses fiber optics for at least some portion of their connection. The DSL and the cable modem system of networks utilize fiber optics. In fact they rely heavily on fiber optics for most parts of their network. Though the actual connection to the house, also known as the last mile, use the traditional copper phone lines or even coaxial cable lines. This causes a bottleneck to occur over the last-mile.
Neither the copper phone lines nor coaxial cable are able to offer the speeds that modern society needs in order to be competitive in the digital economy. CEOs of major telephone companies have gone so far as to admit that DSL is obsolete, especially when compared to cable. Over phone lines, DSL is limited by the distance it must travel. DSL signals degrade for every mile past the first mile a receiver lives away from the central office. The top speeds of DSL through a telephone line can’t even come close to that of fiber optic so even those living close to a central office are missing out.
Now it is true that the standard cable system does offer faster download speeds than DSL could ever hope for. The problem is that the cable system uses a shared network when it comes to covering that last mile. It is possible for an entire street or even neighborhood of houses to be sharing bandwidth. In fact there are many situations where the local loop and the bandwidth are being shared by hundreds of houses. It only takes a few bandwidth hogs for everyone’s performance to suffer.
It doesn’t even take a few bandwidth hogs to cause a slowdown. As people get home from work, or from school they will come many will go online. As they go online they will use more and more bandwidth. Because that last mile is essentially shared bandwidth the cable system will not be able to keep up. With the increased affordability of fiber optics communities have looked towards having full fiber-to-the-home networks. They are still an expense in the short term, more expensive than traditional copper by far when it comes to installation, but the best bet for long term investment.
When a community has a fiber optic network they are able to offer the fastest speeds, while offering prices that are either similar, if not below the prices many are currently paying and only receiving much slower speeds. Smaller businesses often cannot afford the thousands of dollars per month for the faster connections generally available without fiber otpics. Faster speeds and affordable prices through community installed fiber optics can act as a lifeline and help smaller local businesses to stay competitive. If there is any doubt the FCC has actually recognized the one of a kind benefit offered by fiber-to-the-home networks.
Fiber Optic Demand
Demand for faster and faster speeds is only going to continue. 68% of Americans own Smartphones, 84% of households own a computer, and 73% have a computer with a broadband connection to the internet. As the years go by broadband needs will only continue to grow. Fiber optic cables have emerged as the one last-mile technology that is actually capable of meeting the ultrahigh-speed needs of an increasingly connected society.
It is easy to see the long-term and strategic benefits of a fiber optic network. Any solution that will put fiber optic ever closer to home, and encourages the placement of fiber optic into the infrastructure is a good solution.
One-hundred years ago copper cables were installed in order to connect the nation via a telephone network. That network became a pivotal part of American society and was used for communication for decades. The same will happen for fiber optic networks if a similar investment is made. Add to that the fact that cable and copper are actually more expensive to maintain than fiber optics and the benefits become even clearer.