Everyone by now knows what fibre optic cable is, but do they know how it works and why it’s so much faster than cable or wireless digital broadband?
In the 1980s telephone companies started putting fibre optic cables under the ground instead of copper cable. The benefit was that the media, glass, was much cheaper than metal, could carry vastly more information, and carry it over much greater distances without the need for signal boosters, switches or repeaters. Copper wire had been in use since the days of the telegraph, and it was quite sufficient when it wasn’t common for every home to have a phone, and the only signal that it had to carry was the voices of the two people having a conversation.
With the advent of the micro-computer, the internet and world wide web, the needs of the infrastructure changed, so the phone company started using fibre optics instead of copper. But if you were using a home computer in the 90s once it became more common for a home to have a computer and internet access you might not have seen much in the way of ‘fast internet’ as we understand it today. Your computer will have still been connected to your modem via a copper cable, and that dial-up modem will have been connected to local exchange via metal cable. Hubs and servers all over the world would be connected by fibre optic lines, but there was still so much metal in the system that the full speed potential could never be reached.
That’s changing very rapidly now. The internet is no longer regarded simply as a useful tool, it’s become so much a part of our lives that it is being considered by many to be a utility, just like gas, electricity and water. Consequently, in order to provide the kind of speed people need to make the internet serviceable, notwithstanding however many people are all using it at the same time, it’s necessary to ensure that as many people have access to fibre all the way up to their property, or an equally acceptable alternative.
So How Does Fibre Broadband Work?
First lets look at how digital works and then how it’s placed within fibre optical technology.
Digital communication depends upon breaking down data into a more manageable format and sending it electronically through wire or the air in the form of electromagnetic energy. The digital format is a sequence of zeros and ones, basically off or on. Because the signal depends on electromagnetic energy to get where it’s going it travels at almost the speed of light, but it is subject to interference from other radio, magnetic and electronic ‘noise’ or interference. Electricity also loses energy as it travels along cable, so you’ll find that eventually there is more ‘noise’ than signal, to solve that you need to find a way of boosting or amplifying the signal, which is expensive, takes up space and uses energy, which again has to be provided and paid for.
Fibre optic broadband on the other hand uses incredibly clear, incredibly fine glass filaments to transfer your data from one place to another. When you send a signal down a fibre optic cable it doesn’t simply flash on and off in order to recreate those ones and zeros, instead it makes use of the frequency of the light itself to carry that information. Because the frequency of light is so infinitesimally short, the speed of light is so fast, and each wave can carry a one or a zero, it becomes possible to send unimaginable amounts of data over vast distances. Picture sending the entire contents of several encyclopaedias 100km in under a second. What that means in real terms is a way of receiving enough data to stream movies, play games, download music, run Smart Home devices, and check the socials all at the same time. A task which is not uncommon for most families these days.
For help picturing how fibre optic broadband can send data so quickly, think of an old fashioned analogue radio. You pull up the aerial and tune in to the station that you want to listen to by selecting the right frequency: music plays. Tune to another frequency and there’s sports commentary, retune again and there’s something else. All these frequencies coexist at the same time, you just have to choose which frequency you want to hear. What fibre optic technology does is use light instead of electromagnetic radio waves, and instead of only being able to tune in to one frequency, it can ‘hear’ all of the stations all at once, and most importantly, make sense of them!
Is There A Downside For Fibre Optic?
Fibre optic does have its drawbacks though. The glass which is used to make the filament is incredibly pure. It’s made in huge cylinders called preforms which are then extruded so they become about as thin as a human hair. There’s a core down which the signal is sent, and that’s surrounded by another sheath of glass which helps prevent light leaking, this is in turn protected by layers plastic coating, the outermost coloured orange. And unlike the glass in your windows, as well as being exceptionally clear, it’s also flexible and nearly unbreakable. But however strong it is, it’s not indestructible.
While it’s very unlikely that you could accidentally damage a fibre optic cord yourself by pulling, twisting or bending it, the filaments can be cut, damaged by crushing, or detached from terminals if they are pulled or twisted. If you broke or cut a copper wire it’s simplicity itself to repair. You just reconnect the ends and solder them back together. Unfortunately, with fibre optics, it’s not that simple. Skilled, experienced hands need specialist tools to locate cut, crimp, splice and reconnect then test each filament before the line can be used again.
Fast internet is now being made available throughout the UK by smaller businesses who can apply for Code powers. Code powers are a set of permissions which allow third party companies to use pre-existing infrastructure, such as the tunnels under the earth the fibre optic cable needs to go down. The company needs to prove that its staff are competent, responsible, and will take all necessary health and safety measures and in return they are given considerably simplified planning procedures to follow.
Briant Broadband is the latest of those small installers to win Code powers. As well as installing fibre to homes and businesses, we are an Internet Service Provider as well. We offer a local, customer satisfaction focused service from our Worthing based office. Call on 01903 221999 to talk about how we can help you if it’s time to switch your broadband provider.