Fiber-optic communication is a method of transmitting information from one place to another by sending pulses of light through an optical fiber. The light forms an electromagnetic carrier wave that is modulated to carry information. Fiber is preferred over electrical cabling when high bandwidth, long distance, or immunity to electromagnetic interference are required.
First developed in the 1970s, fiber-optics have revolutionized the telecommunications industry and have played a major role in the advent of the Information Age. Because of its advantages over electrical transmission, optical fibers have largely replaced copper wire communications in core networks in the developed world.
The process of communicating using fiber-optics involves the following basic steps:
- creating the optical signal involving the use of a transmitter, usually from an electrical signal
- relaying the signal along the fiber, ensuring that the signal does not become too distorted or weak
- receiving the optical signal
Optical fiber is used by many telecommunications companies to transmit telephone signals, Internet communication, and cable television signals. Due to much lower attenuation and interference, optical fiber has large advantages over existing copper wire in long-distance and high-demand applications. However, infrastructure development within cities was relatively difficult and time-consuming, and fiber-optic systems were complex and expensive to install and operate.
Modern fiber-optic communication systems generally include an optical transmitter to convert an electrical signal into an optical signal to send into the optical fiber, a cable containing bundles of multiple optical fibers that is routed through underground conduits and buildings, multiple kinds of amplifiers, and an optical receiver to recover the signal as an electrical signal. The information transmitted is typically digital information generated by computers, telephone systems, and cable television companies.
A GBIC module (shown here with its cover removed), is an optical and electrical transceiver. The electrical connector is at top right, and the optical connectors are at bottom left
The most commonly used optical transmitters are semiconductor devices such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and laser diodes.