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Fiber-Optic Technology

1. From Theory to Practical Application: A Quick History

An important principle in physics became the theoretical foundation for optical fiber communications: light in a glass medium can carry more information over longer distances than electrical or radio frequency (RF) signals can carry in a copper, coaxial or wireless medium.

The first challenge undertaken by scientists was to develop a glass so pure that one percent of the light would be retained at the end of one kilometer (km), the existing unrepeatered transmission distance for copper-based telephone systems. In terms of attenuation, this one-percent of light retention translated to 20 decibels per kilometer (dB/km) of glass material.

Glass researchers all over the world worked on the challenge in the 1960s, but the breakthrough came in 1970, when Corning Incorporated scientists Drs. Robert Maurer, Donald Keck, and Peter Schultz created a fiber with a measured attenuation of less than 20 dB per km. It was the purest glass ever made.

The three scientistsí work is recognized as the discovery that led the way to the commercialization of optical fiber technology. Since then, the technology has advanced tremendously in terms of performance, quality, consistency, and applications.

Working closely with customers has made it possible for scientists to understand what modifications are required, to improve the product accordingly through design and manufacturing, and to develop industry-wide standards for fiber.

The commitment to optical fiber technology has spanned more than 30 years and continues today with the endeavor to determine how fiber is currently used and how it can meet the challenges of future applications. As a result of research and development efforts to improve fiber, a high level of glass purity has been achieved. Today, fiberís optical performance is approaching the theoretical limits of silica-based glass materials. This purity, combined with improved system electronics, enables fiber to transmit digitized light signals hundreds of kilometers without amplification. When compared with early attenuation levels of 20 dB per km, todayís achievable levels of less than 0.35 dB per km at 1310 nanometers (nm) and 0.25 dB per km at 1550 nm, testify to the incredible drive for improvement.

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