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Busting myths about fiber optics

By Richard Arneson

How often do you and your buddies sit around and talk about fiber optics? That little, huh. It would be a bit like chewing the fat about your home’s electrical wiring. Sure, it could happen, but conversations related to politics, sports, religion, et al. will probably trump wiring every time. Fiber optics is a lot like electricity―it’s been around a long time, is reliable, and we only talk about it when it doesn’t work. Oh, and life without it just may prove unlivable. For instance, if you’re thinking you’ll use your smart phone to hop on the Internet or make a phone call, it won’t be possible without fiber optics. While you don’t see fiber stands dangling from your smart phone, there’s a little thing called wireless backhaul. After your wireless voice or data hits the nearest cell tower, those 1’s and 0’s are carried back to the service provider’s network via…fiber optics. And that’s just a small example why fiber optics, whether you realize it or not, is as critical to our way of life as electricity. So in the event you hear any of the following disparaging remarks about fiber optics, rest assured they’re all myths.

Myth 1—Fiber optics is glass…of course it’s fragile

Just the word fiber should be enough to debunk this myth. Think about fiberglass and its many durability-required uses. It’s composed of glass fibers and wraps the car you drive. Fiber optics, when compared to its copper counterpart, is considerably more durable. While tugging on it isn’t recommended, its pull tension is much stronger than copper or coax. And it’s far better equipped to handle the wide array of environmental conditions that are thrown at it. Consider water, for instance. Copper carries signals electronically―not good when mixed with water. Not true with fiber optics. It carries signals with a beam of light. Try this one on for size: the fiber optics used outdoors has a 600- to 800-pound tension rating. Not to suggest that you can swing on it, but it’s super strong. Busted.

Myth 2—Fiber optics is very pricey

This myth was once true, at least partially, but at present installing fiber optics is comparable to the cost of installing copper or coax. Its price has steadily decreased due, in part, to advances in signal termination technology—cheaper and more efficient. Also, less equipment is needed for fiber networks, and, because it doesn’t utilize electricity, it can even lower your utility bills. Busted.

Myth 3—Fiber optics installations are difficult

Like the price myth, this one was at one time factual. But that fact dies sometime in the mid-1990’s. For years fiber optics has been the standard of choice for service provider backbones. If field operations personnel aren’t comfortable with working on and installing fiber optics by now, their skill sets are about twenty (20) years behind the times. And due to fiber optics’ lack of an electrical current, there are fewer routing restrictions and no need to worry about electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI). Busted.

Myth 4—Bend it and you’re cooked

There was a time when fiber optics was more sensitive to bending, but this has always been a myth. Yes, it was once a little less bend-friendly, but now insensitive fiber is used in the event a super tight radius is required. This is just one of the many reasons why fiber optics is so amazing. Insensitive fiber has a trench that surrounds the fiber, but is inside the cladding encasing it. This tiny trench is highly refractive, so any light that escapes the fiber due to a tight radius is refracted back to it. If you could bend a mirrored tube around, say, a telephone pole and shine a flashlight in one end, light would exit the other, right? This is very similar to how insensitive fiber works, except that, technically, mirrors reflects light and fiber optics refracts it. Busted. As a side note, insensitive fiber is solely used indoors; outdoor applications will never require that tight of a turn radius. If it does, its layout has been poorly planned.

Now for some quick FACTS about fiber optics

It’s super-fast (only slightly slower than the speed of light), has far less attenuation (signal loss) than copper or coax, is impervious to EMI and RFI, doesn’t pose a fire hazard, and doesn’t require replacement nearly as often as coax or copper. Are those some of the many reasons why fiber optics will be around and continue to be vital to our lives for a long time to come.

For questions, turn to these optical networking experts

If you have questions or would like more information about fiber optics or optical networking, contact GDT’s Optical Networking practice professionals at Optical@gdt.com. Composed of experienced optical engineers, solutions architects and project managers who specialize in optical networks, the GDT Optical Networking team supports some of the largest service providers and enterprises in the world. They’d love to hear from you. For additional reading material about fiber optics, check these out: A fiber optic first and When good fiber goes bad.]]>

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