What Is Fiber Optic Cable Used for?

By Nathania Maddox

Fiber-optic cable is becoming an increasingly common replacement for traditional standard copper wire. Both materials are used to transmit signals from one location to another, but a fiber-optic line has significant advantages over its predecessor, including the ability to carry a larger amount of bandwidth over a greater distance at faster speeds, all for a lower maintenance cost and with increased resistance to electromagnetic interference from objects like radios and other cables.

Function

While copper-wire cables use electronic pulses as the signal medium, fiber-optic cables use light pulses in diverse environments that range from telephone systems to cable television to medical and engineering technology. Comprised of strings of pure glass that can be as thin as a strand of human hair, fiber-optic lines have a transmitter at one end that processes inputted data and transforms it to a light pulse that subsequently travels down the cable to its destination. The process is possible because of total internal reflection, an optical occurrence in which a ray of light reflects back into the medium that contains it, such as glass, when it strikes the medium at a certain angle.

Communication Systems

Networking and telecommunication are two areas where fiber-optic cables are ideal signal conductors. Light's ability to travel great distances through optical lines without weakening makes the systems well-matched for both long-distance and short-distance communication. In addition, individual glass fibers can transmit independent light pulses on multiple wavelengths, which allows each strand to carry simultaneous streams of data on various channels. The material's resistance to electrical interference also increases the clarity of propagated signals since nearby cables and environmental noise don't affect them.

Cable Television

Usage of fiber-optic cables in the cable-television industry began in 1976 and quickly spread because of the new medium's superiority over traditional coaxial cable. Not only is the glass-based system less expensive and capable of transmitting clearer signals farther away from the source signal, but its substantially reduced signal losses decrease the number of amplifiers required for each customer from an average of 35 to just a couple. Moreover, fiber-optic cable allows cable providers to offer more customized service to separate neighborhoods because only one optical line is needed for every 500 or so households.

Imaging

Another popular use of fiber-optic cable is in imaging. In a medical setting, an endoscope is a diagnostic instrument that enables users to see through small holes in the body. In other environments, where the device is also called a borescope or fiberscope, it makes it easier to observe areas that are difficult to reach or see under normal circumstances. All versions of endoscopes look like a long thin tube, with a lens at one end through which light is emitted from the bundle of optical fibers banded together inside the enclosure.

Additional Uses

More and more industries are relying on fiber-optic cables because of the material's benefits. For instance, computer and Internet technology has improved due to optical fibers' enhanced transmission of digital signals. Even better from a financial standpoint, service is often cheaper because fiber-optic signals stay strong longer, requiring less power over time to transmit signals than copper-wire systems, which need high-voltage transmitters.