The Internet Revolution: How Fiber Optics is Changing the Way We Connect to the Web

Sunday, June 25, 2017

How Fiber Optics is Changing the Way We Connect to the Web

The Internet has fundamentally changed the ways that we do business, communicate and even live our lives. It’s hard to even remember a time before Facebook or Netflix. Now fiber optics are preparing to fundamentally change the Internet itself.

While the Internet used to be largely limited by the physical limits of electrical signals moving on metal cables, fiber promises to reshape what we consider baseline Internet speed and reliability.


Bandwidth is one of those Internet terms that isn’t entirely clear to everyone. The basic impression is that more bandwidth is better and somehow related to speed, but bandwidth and speed are not identical. Bandwidth is the amount of information you can move over a given period of time. So more bandwidth does make the Internet faster for large volumes of data, like streaming video and online gaming. It makes a minimal difference for checking email and sending tweets. What makes fiber so impressive is that basic fiber bandwidth is typically around 100 megabits/ second and high-end fiber bandwidth can range from 1 gigabit/second to 10 gigabits/second. The best coax bandwidth generally peaks at 100-200 megabits/second. That means a near-instantaneous transmission of files that used to take a long time to download or upload.


It’s a basic fact of the universe that light travels faster than electricity. The same applies to fiber internet. The irony here is that the stumbling block isn’t the Internet technology, but the computers and routers that connect to it. Many of the routers in people’s homes were built around the old standard of 100 megabits/second as an upper limit. Older computers weren’t built with gigabit Internet speeds in mind. Odds are good that you’ll need to upgrade your router and possibly your computer to take full advantage of fiber internet. A few basic parameters are a gigabit-enabled router, a multi-core processor computer and, ideally, a solid state hard drive. Solid state drives are must faster than their older magnetic platter cousins.

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The coax cables used for much of the Internet traffic can be compromised in a surprising number of ways that don’t affect fiber lines. Coax cables depend on electricity, so power outages and lightning storms can knock out Internet service. Fiber lines keep working regardless of whether electricity is on or off. Fiber lines are substantially more durable, able to withstand up to 200 pounds of pulling tension. The most durable coax cables cap out at about 80 pounds and most are even less than that. Electromagnetic fields can create “noise” in coax lines that reduce reliability, while fiber lines are largely immune to normal electromagnetic interference. Fiber also has extremely low attenuation, which is signal power loss over distance, when compared to coax.


Data breaches have become so routine that they barely register as meaningful, despite the huge economic costs involved. What most people don’t realize is that the very cables that transmit Internet traffic are remarkably easy to tap for someone with a little know-how. Fiber optic lines, by comparison, are quite difficult to tap without specialized equipment and training. On top of that, the extraordinary volume of information transmitted on the fiber lines makes it more difficult to single out relevant data. This makes fiber cables a more secure medium than the traditional cables used for Internet traffic.

Fiber optics are little more than thin strands of glass, yet they will radically change the Internet and how we interact with it. The promise of vastly enhanced speeds, bandwidth and reliability will facilitate e-commerce, online entertainment and amplify the power of the cloud. We may very well be on the cusp of a golden age for the Internet.

By  Lizzie WeakleyEmbed

About the Author: Lizzie Weakley is a freelance writer from Columbus, Ohio. She went to college at The Ohio State University where she studied communications. In her free time, she enjoys the outdoors and long walks in the park with her 3-year-old husky Snowball. If you are looking at getting a STEM related education, Lizzie suggests that you consider an electrical engineering master’s degree from the University of Ohio.


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