The Evolution of Fiber Optic Networking

Since the inception of their modern incarnation in the 1970s, fiber optic communications systems have revolutionized the way companies share and access information. Fiber optic networks transmit data as light across strands, enabling information to be sent quickly across long distances. Because of this, fiber optic networks are replacing the copper cables and microwave network systems where high-capacity bandwidth is needed.

The capabilities inherent in fiber optic networks are expanding exponentially through wavelength-division technology that can transmit several light signals using different frequencies – think of each frequency/light signal as a different color of light – all travelling within one strand of fiber. The advent of Dense Wave Division Multiplexing (DWDM) and optical transmission technology has profoundly increased fiber’s capacity in three specific ways:

  • Number of lightwaves: Think of each lightwave as a channel.  Using FM radio as an example – as you turn the knob to tune to different channels, if two channels are really close to each other, you might have interfering signals and couldn’t hear one station very well. The closer the channels are together, the more interference you can get in the band. To accommodate clear signaling, spacing is needed between channels.  The same analogy applies to the number of channels within one fiber strand.  Today, technology has enabled the spacing between the channels to shrink drastically, from 200 gigahertz to 100 gigahertz, and now to 50 gigahertz without interference. This I believe that number will shrink even more, allowing for more channel/lightwaves per fiber strand, transmitting more data.
  •  Per channel capacity: another continuous technology improvement is the ability to carry more information per channel.  Networks used to be able to provide one to two-and-one-half gigabyte of data per channels. Now, the technology allows up to 100 gigabyte channels.
  •  Reconfigurable optical network: Legacy networks were point-to-point systems. If you wanted to get from Point A to Point C, you had to go through Point B. It was very manual and difficult to troubleshoot. Now, it’s all software-based, and you can build a hierarchical DWDM network and configure channels to go from Point A to Point D and there may be two intermediate nodes in the middle. It’s more robust, less prone to failures and quicker to provision.

With the continual technology advancements, possibilities are limitless with fiber network services.

Francisco Maella, COO, Alpheus Communications