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Applications in the Real World

The U.S. military moved quickly to use fiber optics for improved communications and tactical systems. In the early 1970's, the U.S. Navy installed a fiber optic telephone link aboard the U.S.S. Little Rock. The Air Force followed suit by developing its Airborne Light Optical Fiber Technology (ALOFT) program in 1976. Encouraged by the success of these applications, military R&D programs were funded to develop stronger fibers, tactical cables, ruggedized, high-performance components, and numerous demonstration systems ranging from aircraft to undersea applications.

Commercial applications followed soon after. In 1977, both AT&T and GTE installed fiber optic telephone systems in Chicago and Boston respectively. These successful applications led to the increase of fiber optic telephone networks. By the early 1980's, single-mode fiber operating in the 1310 nm and later the 1550 nm wavelength windows became the standard fiber installed for these networks. Initially, computers, information networks, and data communications were slower to embrace fiber, but today they too find use for a transmission system that has lighter weight cable, resists lightning strikes, and carries more information faster and over longer distances.

The broadcast industry also embraced fiber optic transmission. In 1980, broadcasters of the Winter Olympics, in Lake Placid, New York, requested a fiber optic video transmission system for backup video feeds. The fiber optic feed, because of its quality and reliability, soon became the primary video feed, making the 1980 Winter Olympics the first fiber optic television transmission. Later, at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, fiber optics transmitted the first ever digital video signal, an application that continues to evolve today.

In the mid-1980's the United States government deregulated telephone service, allowing small telephone companies to compete with the giant, AT&T. Companies like MCI and Sprint quickly went to work installing regional fiber optic telecommunications networks throughout the world. Taking advantage of railroad lines, gas pipes, and other natural rights of way, these companies laid miles fiber optic cable, allowing the deployment of these networks to continue throughout the 1980's. However, this created the need to expand fiber's transmission capabilities.

In 1990, Bell Labs transmitted a 2.5 Gb/s signal over 7,500 km without regeneration. The system used a soliton laser and an erbium-doped fiber amplifier (EDFA) that allowed the light wave to maintain its shape and density. In 1998, they went one better as researchers transmitted 100 simultaneous optical signals, each at a data rate of 10 gigabits (giga means billion) per second for a distance of nearly 250 miles (400 km). In this experiment, dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM technology, which allows multiple wavelengths to be combined into one optical signal, increased the total data rate on one fiber to one terabit per second (1012 bits per second).

For more information on fiber optic applications see Fiber Optic Transport Solutions

Posted on Dec 05, 2008 - 12:35 PM