Fiber Optic History

People have used light to transmit information for hundreds of years. However, it was not until the 1960s, with the invention of the laser, that widespread interest in optical (light) systems for data communications began. The invention of the laser prompted researchers to study the potential of fiber optics for data communications, sensing, and other applications. Laser systems could send a much larger amount of data than telephone, microwave, and other electrical systems.

The first experiment with the laser involved letting the laser beam transmit freely through the air. Researchers also conducted experiments letting the laser beam transmit through different types of waveguides. Glass fibers, gas-filled pipes, and tubes with focusing lenses are examples of optical waveguides. Glass fibers soon became the preferred medium for fiber optic research.

Initially, the very large losses in the optical fibers prevented coaxial cables from being replaced. Loss is the decrease in the amount of light reaching the end of the fiber. Early fibers had losses around 1,000 dB/km making them impractical for communications use.

In 1969, several scientists concluded that impurities in the fiber material caused the signal loss in optical fibers. The basic fiber material did not prevent the light signal from reaching the end of the fiber. These researchers believed it was possible to reduce the losses in optical fibers by removing the impurities. By removing the impurities, construction of low-loss optical fibers was possible.

There are two basic types of optical fibers, multimode fibers and single mode fibers.

In 1970, Corning Glass Works made a multimode fiber with losses under 20 dB/km.

This same company, in 1972, made a high silica-core multimode optical fiber with 4dB/km minimum attenuation (loss). Currently, multimode fibers can have losses as low as 0.5 dB/km at wavelengths around 1300 nm. Single mode fibers are available with losses lower than 0.25 dB/km at wavelengths around 1500 nm.

Developments in semiconductor technology, which provided the necessary light sources and detectors, furthered the development of fiber optics. Conventional light sources, such as lamps or lasers, were not easily used in fiber optic systems. These light sources tended to be too large and required lens systems to launch light into the fiber.

In 1971, Bell Laboratories developed a small area light-emitting diode (LED). This light source was suitable for low-loss coupling to optical fibers. Researchers could then perform source-to-fiber jointing easily and repeatedly. Early semiconductor sources had operating lifetimes of only a few hours. However, by 1973, projected lifetimes of lasers advanced from a few hours to greater than 1,000 hours.

By 1977, projected lifetimes of lasers advanced to greater than 7,000 hours. By 1979, these devices were available with projected lifetimes of more than 100,000 hours.

In addition, researchers also continued to develop new fiber optic parts. The types of new parts developed included low-loss fibers and fiber cables, splices, and connectors. These parts permitted demonstration and research on complete fiber optic systems.

Advances in fiber optics have permitted the introduction of fiber optics into present applications. These applications are mostly in the telephone long-haul systems, but are growing to include cable television, computer networks, video systems, and data links. Research should increase system performance and provide solutions to existing problems in conventional applications. The impressive results from early research show there are many advantages offered by fiber optic systems.

A Brief History of Fiber Optic Development.

Shown above is a brief history showing the development of fiber optics data handling capacity. As you can see the technology has not been around for very long.

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