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What is Fiber-Optic Communication?

By Solomon Branch
Updated May 17, 2024
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Fiber-optic communication allows information to be sent using pulses of light through a thin, transparent fiber made of glass or plastic, known as an optical fiber. It is much more efficient in terms of distance and bandwidth than traditional copper-wire communications, and is widely used in the telecommunications and networking fields. The most common form of fiber-optic communication is in networks using fiber optic cables.

The fiber-optic communication process requires several components in addition to the optical fibers. Typical fiber-optic networks will have both a transmitter to send the signal and a receiver that receives it to change it back into electrical signals. Often, the two are combined to form a transceiver that has both capabilities. A network will also contain a variety of other components including an amplifier that can boost the signal, and a repeater, that repeats the signal. These and other devices can take care of attenuation and distortion, a problem that is inherent in this type of communication system.

An advantage of using this type of communication system is that it can reach longer distances and has higher bandwidth than traditional copper-based forms of networks. Fiber cables can typically go up to 60 miles (100 km) without having to have the signal repeated or boosted, whereas copper-wire can only go 1-2 miles (1.6 - 3.2 km) without boosting the signal. Another advantage fiber-optic has is that it does not experience much interference from other fiber-optic cables or electromagnetic signals, something metal based systems have issues with.

One of the main disadvantages of fiber-optic communication is the price. It is typically more expensive than other types of networks in a couple of ways. First, the fiber-optic cables are harder to splice and cost more than copper-wire. Secondly, the equipment to implement it can be more expensive in a smaller scale, makes it less cost effective for home use. That, however, is changing, especially in the Asian markets.

The main use for fiber-optic communications is in larger systems that have to go a long distance, such as the backbone of the Internet and in telecommunications industries, like the phone company. Although the use in homes and low bandwidth situations is limited, sometimes fiber optic communication systems will be used if the need permits. One example would be in a situation where there needs to be limited interference from an electromagnetic source, such as someone trying to tap into the signal. Although using copper-wire networking would be cheaper, the fiber-optic system is more secure.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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