(By Sudipta Bhaumik)
Over the years, we have witnessed amplified growth in data consumption globally. In the current time internet is no longer only about connectivity but connectivity with low latency, ultra-high reliability, faster speed, and higher bandwidth. With the current Covid-19 pandemic, people spend most of the time online compared to pre-COVID times. Millions of people across the world have switched to remote working and learning using various video conferencing platforms, which amounts to 60% of the total traffic, and our network isn’t capable of handling such massive traffic. This leads to major connectivity crises such as congestion at WiFi access points, FWA (Fixed Wireless Access) limitations, burdened at interconnect points, etc.
While everyone is searching for the solution, the solution to the problem has been with us for ages – the optical fibre technology.
Let’s time travel to see where it all started.
As far back as Roman times, glass has been drawn into fibers. Yet, it was not until the 1790s that the French Chappe brothers invented the first “optical telegraph.” It was a system comprised of a series of lights mounted on towers where operators would relay a message from one tower to the next. Over the next century, great strides were made in optical science.
Remember the story called “Through the Looking Glass”? Sure, you do. During Alice’s adventures in wonderland, she looked at where everyone else had looked and seen something no one had ever seen before. That’s what happened with fibre optics, people were making cloth from glass threads for years, and now they were able to pass light through it. Although it still took them years to understand the real potential, until the late nineteenth century.
“I have heard articulate speech produced by sunlight. I have heard a ray of the sun laugh, cough and sing” – words of Alexander Graham Bell. This was the birth of the idea of using light for communication, but it still took another century to make his dream a reality.
Entering into an era of limitless capacities
In 1977, the first-ever optical communication network was operated at a bit rate of 45mbps. But this was not enough. Technologies kept improving, and speeds kept increasing. By early 1990, a remarkable thing happened – digital data could be sent through optical fibre getting us to 2.5Gbps capacity. From exploiting the concept of time followed by wavelength, phase, amplitude, and then the polarization of optical signals, capacity increased manifolds. Today, a single strand of fibre can carry an unimaginable 10Tbps, but the sustainability would soon be questioned again.
Connecting the World through the Internet
With the advent of future technologies, the world is at the cusp of a massive data revolution. The future internet depends heavily upon the optical fibre tech. Possessing the potential to carry massive amounts of data at ultra-low latency and lightning speeds, fibre is a must for serving both wired and wireless future networks. Over the years, the optical fibre industry has seen a paradigm shift, from enabling connectivity across continents via undersea cable to a world where fibre is almost everywhere. Today we see fibre in mobile backhaul for connecting telecom towers, fibre to the home services, data centres, and various other enterprise use cases.
3 Ways Fibre Changes the Game
- Backbone for wireless technologies: 5G, WiFi, and satellite: Imagine downloading a 2-hour movie, 26 hours on 3G, 6 minutes on 4G, and on 5G, you’ll be ready to watch your movie in just over 3.5 secs. We will soon see technologies fuelled by 5G like self-driving cars, robotic surgeries, mixed reality, the Internet of Things, smart factories, drone delivery, etc. play an important role in our everyday lives. But wait a minute, to enable 5G fibre is a must, all of this would be a dream without fibre. In the 1990s – during the 1G/2G era – we used to ‘carry a mobile phone’ for voice calling and sending/ receiving messages. In 2000 when 3G and 4G evolved along with Smartphone technologies, we had started ‘carrying our office.’ In the 5G era, we will start interacting with our society, even with non-living things.
- Highway for Data: Most people think it’s all satellites and wireless, but they are wrong. All types of land-based traffic, whether its Facebook, Phone Calls, Netflix, Emails whatever, most part is carried by submarine and terrestrial fibre optic cables. Today, over 400 submarine cables in service around the world. From one continent to another it happens all in milliseconds. Recently, the Kingdom of Tonga in 2019 experienced a cell phone and internet crisis when one of their undersea cables was cut by an oil tanker. It took 13 days to resume services before it all became normal.
- High-speed broadband, cable television, and telephone: As fibre possesses greater bandwidth, ultra-low latency, higher security and faster speed at all times, it has become the ideal choice for cable television and telephony. Also, high-speed fibre broadband has emerged as the most reliable, secure and fast way of delivering gigabit connectivity in densely populated areas, rural connectivity, long haul and military applications.
Our connectivity solutions are not yet virtual, and it is still in the developing phase. However, projects like balloons in the sky, solar-powered planes to bring the internet over the sea, internet satellites in orbit are still not a reality. Until then, optic fibre is here to offer data network connectivity solutions. The need of the hour is to build a network that is responsive enough to handle any catastrophe, whether it is handling a sudden surge in data traffic or providing mission-critical services. While the world is reducing streaming quality to keep the internet going, fibre are upscaling bandwidths and delivering the much needed.
(The author is the Associate General Manager at STL)