Can Fiber Optics Solve the Growing Need for Data?

8.10.2016, Written by Nora Hartman
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Studies show adults are spending approxFibre-wireimately 11 hours each day using electronic media, including listening to the
radio, tinkering on their smartphone, and browsing the internet on a desktop computer. Most of these electronics are linked to the internet either through hard wires like fiber optic cables, or mobile networks, and they’re eating up data capacity faster than ever before. That constant connection has some asking: is there enough data capacity to deal with the telecom demand?

Each U.S. household uses a different amount of bandwidth monthly depending on the number of connected devices and what they use those devices for. Gigaom has an interesting breakdown of the broadband usage by demographic. For example, the survey shows that two young parents with a child use about 125 GB of internet a month, but a household with two parents and three pre-teens can exceed 300 GB in a 30-day period. Multiply these figures by the number of internet users in America – about 84% of the total population – and you’ve got a country that demands a lot of bandwidth.

That demand is only going to go up, especially as streaming sites such as Netflix become more popular. Netflix uses 36% of all bandwidth in the States.

The Ways the Internet Reaches Us

To understand the issue, one must first have some background on how the American data supply is currently transmitted. Today, there are three main means of transmission: copper, wireless, and fiber.

  • Copper: Copper cabling goes back to the advent of the telephone more than 100 years ago. Just as it can transmit vocal signals, it can also transmit internet data. Known as broadband, this connection is already in most homes and businesses due to the past prevalence of landlines. Copper cable is considered the most cost-effective and accessible way to tap into an internet connection. The fastest broadband connections take about 32 minutes to download a standard HD movie.
  • Wireless: Also known as 4G and LTE, wireless technology is what telecom companies such as AT&T and Verizon use to power the data on your smartphone. The average LTE speed in the U.S. is 9 megabytes per second, which is substantially lower than in the rest of the world. The fastest connection would take more than an hour to download an HD movie.
  • Fiber: Launched in the 1970s, fiber optic has quickly become a popular way to broadcast television channels, in addition to internet and telephone services. Superfast fiber connections can download an HD movie in approximately 25 seconds.

While broadband connections have worked well for years, they simply cannot keep up with America’s current demand for bandwidth.

The Fiber Fix

Just as fiber optics revolutionized the telecommunications industry when it was mainstreamed in the mid-1980s, new developments may also help the American internet connection stay nimble in light of greater demand.

Not only can a single fiber cable transmit more data at once than its copper counterpart, but fiber optic cables are also less susceptible to outside interference and security breaches and are much more durable.

99% of the world’s internet capacity is currently transmitted over fiber cable. While it is regarded as the future of the telecom industry, there remains a shortage of fiber connections directly linking homes and businesses. Despite fiber dominating international and deep sea internet connections, nearly every home remains linked to the web with a copper wire connection. Much of that relates to the economics of switching the connection. The cost of changing a home’s line from copper to fiber is estimated to be between $1,143 USD and $1,479 USD. In most cases, the cost of labor alone justifies keeping the connectivity status quo.

Fiber Flexibility

Unlike copper technology, which has stayed similar for a century, fiber optic technology is constantly changing.

Traditionally, copper cables, and now traditional fiber optic connections, offered more than enough bandwidth for communities, and everyone’s internet connection managed to operate smoothly and quickly. That’s changed. There are now so many users that the previously uninterrupted beams of data are beginning to get muddled.

That’s where something called orbital angular momentum fiber comes into play. A Boston University researcher quoted in the previously mentioned article says OAM fiber is a type of fiber optic that sends more flexible bursts of data down the cable. This means the same number of people can use the same amount of data – only it’s not slowed down.

It is fiber research like this that has experts hopeful that America can solve its bogged down bandwidth issue.

Just as fiber optics revolutionized the telecommunications industry when it was   in the mid-1980s, new developments may also help the American internet connection stay nimble in light of greater demand.

Not only can a single fiber cable transmit more data at once than its copper counterpart, but fiber optic cables are also less susceptible to outside interference and security breaches, and are much more durable.

With the price of fiber optic technology dropping each year and more Americans gaining access to the service, faster internet and greater bandwidth is within everyone’s grasp. Think of that the next time you fret over bandwidth limits.

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