The Past, Present, and Future of Fiber Optic Technology

Today, the telecommunication industry relies heavily on fiber optic cables. The world is hardwired to want things – now. Without fiber optics, multiple industries including, telecommunication, industrial, data storage, network planning and design, and broadband would not be able to apply and use fiber optic technology for a variety of applications.

In this blog, we look back on the beginnings of fiber optics and trace them all the way to where the industry is today.


1800s – electromagnetic and telegraph systems 

Fiber optic technology has come a long way, but today’s pioneers and scientists would not be where they are without the early discoveries made in the 1800s. In 1840, physicists Jean-Daniel Colladon and Jacques Babinet, illustrated that light could be directed along sets of water. What these scientists were illustrating was light reflecting repeatedly in the water stream, describing a form of zigzag due to the phenomenon known as total internal reflection [1].  

Light fountain experiment

Light fountain experiment. 19th-century illustration of the light fountain invented by Swiss physicist Jean-Daniel Colladon (1802-1893). Credit: Science Photo Library

Telegraph systems  

Also developed in the 1830s and 1840s, the telegraph is worth mentioning given that it revolutionized long distance communication. The pioneer – Samuel Morse, developed a code (bearing his name) which assigned a set of dots and dashes to each letter of the English alphabet [2]. It allowed for the simple transmission of complex messages across telegraph lines. In 1884, Morse and his team sent the first telegraph message, from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, Maryland. It was his groundwork that laid the foundation for the telephone, fax machine, and Internet. 

Modern day advancements

As scientists and engineers continued the development of optical fibers, remarkable things started to happen. From the 1960s onward, there was rapid growth in the fiber optic space as scientists across the globe continued to experiment with and improve on the technology. In the 1960s, Sir Charles Kao starts working at Standard Telephone and Cables (UK) and lays the foundation for fiber optics, producing inventions such as the Internet possible [3]. In 1966, Sir Charles reveals how to make low loss fiber suitable for communication using an optical cladding over a pure glass core, while removing impurities. His observations awarded him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2009. According to Harlow Museum’s David Devine, Sir Charles transformed the world and is known to be the father of fiber optics.  

Fiber optic pioneer - Sir Charles Kao

Charles Kuen Kao doing an early experiment on optical fiber at the Standard Telecommunications Laboratory in Harlow, England, in the 1960s. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2009. Credit: Chinese University of Hong Kong, via EPA

2000s and beyond 

By the year 2000, fiber optic cables had almost entirely replaced copper wires. It is these vast networks across the globe that have had an impact and contributed to success of the Internet. We have entered an era when technology will completely transform every aspect of our lives – enter Fiber to the Home (FTTH). 

The use of fiber optic cables to deliver broadband connections from a central location to a house is referred to as a FTTH network [4]. In 2006, FTTH networks, mostly based as passive optical networks (PONs), start using optical splitters to connect multiple subscribers on one fiber [5]. Thus, network operators look to offer their solution to a global customer base and begin deployment worldwide. 

Preparing for

Currently, fiber supports 80% of all long-range data transmission across the globe and has become the primary choice for delivering high-speed connectivity. 5G, the latest generation of cellular technology, delivers faster speeds, lower latency, and greater capacity than its 4G predecessor. As a result, network operators have begun deploying 5G wireless networks. 

Fiber represents an exceptional opportunity which requires a solid understanding across construction, network architecture, and network operations at large scale to achieve an effective and sustainable project [6]. With the technological aspects of fiber optic networks being quite critical, users need to have a solid understanding on the fiber, the electronics that power the network, and software to automate and optimize the planning and design stages. Because 5G networks require a considerable investment, the planning and design stages are crucial for achieving your fiber and 5G network rollout plan.  

2021 – Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

In November 2021, the United States passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which aims to deliver $65 billion to help ensure each U.S. resident has access to reliable high-speed internet. The investment will be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) newly established Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth 

With a massive emphasis on high-speed networks, experts see this funding opportunity for the infrastructure players, including large and small internet service providers such as telcos and cable companies [7]. Rural electric companies that have built rugged fiber infrastructures can expand their footprints for fiber backhaul. According to Broadband Communities Magazine, small wireless internet service providers (WISPs) have an opportunity to make gains under the IIJA. From a wireless standpoint, additional towers will be required to expand wireless coverage in underserved areas – farms, ranches, vineyards, and oil fields. Furthermore, economically challenged areas can benefit from these new opportunities to attract business by deploying high-speed broadband. 

The future

Fiber optics are a lifeblood of the new economy – fast, affordable, adaptable, and sustainable. Organizations that possess a depth of knowledge and experience in the fiber optic space will be in a better position to deploy access to gigabit connectivity. What exactly is fiber optic technology? Simply put, it is the wave of the future. 











Author: Omar Abbasi – Marketing Manager, Americas