Where Did Fiber Optic Cables Come From?

Where did fiber optic cables come from?

As I sipped my coffee one morning, a random thought popped into my head. How did fiber optic cables come into existence? Most of the world uses it in their day to day lives, but where did it come from? After reading some articles on the topic, I was amazed to find that fiber optic existed even before I was born.

The first physical fiber optic cable was invented by physicist Narinder Singh Kapany around 1952 in the U.K; experiments were done using light within a medium. Different compounds were tested, but the best results came from a glass core. To explain it all in a nutshell – Binary data is send via light pulses through the fiber cable core. The core is mostly made of glass. As the light travels down the core, each particle of light (Photon) bounces of the sides within the core. The discovery was made were light hits glass at a very shallow angle (less than 42 degrees) and then it reflects back like a mirror. To further improve efficiency, a thicker layer made from glass or plastic is wrapped around the core, called Cladding. These fibers are extremely thin, less than a tenth of a human hair. As technology advances, more efficient versions of these cables are being produced, which supports better bandwidth.


A few decades later (in 1988) the first fiber optic cable was laid underwater to connect U.S and Europe. Around the same time (in 1988) South Africa installed their first fiber cable between Johannesburg and Pretoria. Only within the last decade fiber optic became widely available in the country, as many of the telecommunication infrastructures are upgrading to fiber networks to cater for VOIP (Voice over internet protocol) systems, as fiber offer faster reliable cost friendly services.

As with all technologies, different infrastructures are developed to make the product available to a wider range of customers. Two distinct different hardware deployments emerged for Fiber Optic Networks, known as Ground and Arial Fiber installations. Many factors play a role to determine which infrastructure will be used. Weather and ground conditions are two of the biggest factors to consider when deciding on the route and infrastructure type. From what I’ve seen, underground fiber installations is the preferred install used for urban neighborhoods, as the cables are not visible (out of sight out of mind) and not effected by above ground weather.

My head was spinning after reading all this information, as I never knew so much research and experiments went into these fiber optic cables. Next time you’re browsing online or playing your favorite online game, throw a thumbs up to physicist Narinder Singh Kapany and his team who made these lighting fast internet speeds a reality.

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