The History of Fiber Optic Data Communication

The History of Fiber Optic Data Communication

Many of today’s devices have complex designs and vary greatly in their function. The fiber optic cable is a great element of technology that helps us transfer information from various sources and assists in communication. Fiber optic data communication dates back over a century, and its development into how we use it today is an interesting tale.

What Is Fiber Optic Data Communication?

Fiber optic data communication can be broken down into two parts: fiber optics and data transmission. Data communication is the transferring of data from one source to another, which may be done through a cable or a wireless connection. Fiber optics references the technology that uses light pulses to transfer data. These fibers are inside cables and wires and are made of glass or plastic.

Fiber optic data communication uses fiber optics to transmit light that carries information from one source to another. These cables work well for high-speed connections because light travels far and at very fast speeds.

Types of Fibers

Fiber optic cables come in multi-mode fiber (MMF) and single-mode fiber (SMF). Multi-mode fibers work well for short distances due to the high dispersion rate and are best used in a LAN because of the space the signal travels. Single-mode fibers are the opposite, as they move over long distances and work best for WAN. Both cables are great choices for network connections, but you’ll want to choose the best option for your network.


The use of fiber optics dates back to the Victorian era when Alexander Graham Bell and his assistant Charles Sumner Tainter invented the experimental photophone, which transmitted sound on a light beam. The experiment tested how far the light would reach and was conducted with the use of two buildings that were almost 700 feet apart. This would later be considered the first experiment for a wireless telephone; however, the experiment was unsuccessful due to the light failing to reach the other building.

Decades later, the technology for direct lasers came into development, and Bell’s work became the basis for the first functional photophone, which was used by the military for communications. Around 1953, Harold Hopkins and Narinder Singh Kapany used rolled fiberglass to develop a better way to transmit light over further distances at a concentrated level.

Almost a decade later, fiber optics were used by scientist Jun-ichi Nishizawa to communicate data, which later led to him creating the PIN diode and the static induction transistor. This, in turn, created a more controlled connection with more power. Both of these would become instrumental in the effectiveness of fiber optic data communication.

First Generation

After many decades of experimentation with fiber optics and how to best utilize them, it wasn’t until 1975 that the first generation of fiber optic data communications was introduced to the world. The first system was considerably slow, given it was the first of its kind; the audio would have a muffled sound and had a bit rate of 45 Mbps. This system would serve as an experiment in multiple cities, using phone lines to determine whether it could work in urban areas.

Second Generation

The 1980s saw an increase in fiber optic data communication when the second generation utilized a semiconductor laser and was deployed for commercial use by InGaAsP. These systems operated on an MMF, which made them ineffective given their short reach. But in 1981, the SMF was invented and opened up pathways for implementing networks that could connect distant areas.

At the time, one of the biggest networks was constructed by SaskTel, a Canadian service provider that made a network over 2,000 miles. The bit rates were also noticeably higher, with 1.7 Gbps flowing through the cables.

Third Generation

The third generation focused on decreasing the dispersion of pulses as they traveled. Scientists used different metal alloys but eventually focused on the semiconductor laser. They changed the laser’s spectrum to a longitudinal mode to decrease wavelength and increase frequency. The result was a bit rate increase to 2.5 Gbps.

Fourth Generation

The fourth generation came about in the 1990s, when scientists utilized Gordon Gould’s optical amplifier to rely less on repeaters to achieve better signal distance. Wavelength-division multiplexing was also used to allow for more data to transfer along the beam of light.

The wavelength-division multiplexing kickstarted optical networking and the use of fiber network cables, which provide higher data capacity and longer reach. The addition of these two components led to optical fiber cables having a bit rate of 10 Tbps.

Fifth Generation

The fifth generation of fiber optic data communication is still in development. However, given the current state of how fast we transfer data between sources, it will most likely have a promising future. The fifth generation’s efforts focus on using wavelength-division multiplexing and extending bandwidth. There is also work being done to implement optical solutions that help light pulses maintain their shape and eliminate dispersion, ultimately allowing for a stronger signal that won’t lose strength over longer distances.

Uses in the Past Few Decades

In the past few decades, optical fiber data communication has helped connect many networks and helped people communicate via telephones. Transferring video data has also been an important function for governments and businesses needing to deliver messages across long distances. Over the years, fiber optic data has become more commercialized for entertainment and data transfer for networks of all sizes.

Uses of Fiber Optic Communications Now

Currently, fiber optic cables still transfer data quickly, with the primary sources being television, telephones, and internet connections. Given the world’s need for reliable data transfer and almost immediate access to the internet, a reliable internet connection is essential. Streaming is also commonly used and requires a long reach worldwide, and fiber optics are the solution for the best connection to streaming providers. High-speed data transfer is necessary for many networks to operate and assist the people that rely on their services, such as helplines and data centers.

The use of fiber optics has grown from a small experiment to a reliable resource for networking. These intricate pieces of technology work well for many and help connect people worldwide. From its history, scientists will most likely find the means to create the fifth generation of fiber optics.

The History of Fiber Optic Data Communication

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