new revolution with hollow-core fiber optics
Digital communications, wherever we are in the world, are made possible almost instantaneously by tiny packets of data travelling vast distances from one server to another via tiny strands of optical fiber. We take it almost for granted that every time we pick up a mobile phone, switch on a computer – or even a smart television – that we will instantly be connected to the worldwide to the worldwide web in the blink of an eye.
Innovation of fiber
In the late 19th century, scientists realised it was possible to transmit images by refracting light through glass rods, optical fiber was born. The first functional optical fiber data transmission system was demonstrated in 1965, and the rest, as they say, is history – although it took many decades of technological innovation and infrastructure development to make optical fiber a financially viable alternative to copper wire.
Nowadays, optical fiber networks are universal. In the era of increased gaming and streaming, the world has developed an appetite for ever-faster broadband speeds and connectivity efficiency and now, a new technological development may about to be the first step to open optical fiber speeds like we have never seen before: hollow-core fiber.
Let’s introduce hollow-core fiber
What even is hollow-core fiber? Compared to traditional optical fiber, which transmits photons in waves down a solid inner core of very high purity materials such as silica or germania, hollow-core fiber is exactly what I says on the tin. The literal hollow core is surrounded by antiresonant, glass-based hollow fibers that reflect light back onto the core, effectively trapping the signal in the optical mode at the very centre of the cable.
Hollow-core is not a new technology; the idea has been around for some time now. However, until recently it was not known if it would ever be a viable alternative to solid fiber. In September 2019, the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) based at the University of Southampton demonstrated the longest ever hollow-core fiber transmission at the 2019 European Conference on Optical Communication in Dublin, demonstrating a loss of only 0.65 dB/km over 340 km.
Loss and damage
Conventional optical fiber can be susceptible to damage and dispersion and ultimately, as the march of technological innovation pushes ever onwards, is limited by its finite spectral transparency and non-linear impairments. The underlying principle of hollow-core fiber’s advantage over traditional silica is that light travels faster through air than solids or liquids.
Loss, otherwise known as attenuation, are commonly cause by radiation, absorption and scattering. By limiting such losses as much as possible, the fiber allows light and the information its carries to travel great distances from the original source.
It could be possible that hollow-core fiber could allow faster data transmission than its solid counterpart, with lower losses and a higher capacity for data transmission. But it’s not likely to totally supplant traditional optical fiber in terrestrial telecommunication systems.
The applications for this technology extend far beyond communications; for instance, it could lead t new manufacturing technologies by using intense laser light transmitted through hollow-core fibers, and could also be used for medical purposes such as imaging technology or the treatment of diseased tissues using laser light.
It may be some time until hollow-core fiber starts becoming viable, and until then, we won’t really know what the technology is capable of. Until then, Bulgin offers a range of rugged fiber connectors to keep optical fiber that is used in harsh environments safe from the dangers of contamination.
The 4000 series provides an industry-standard LC interface as specified by IEC 61754-20. To save time and simplify installation, the connectors are available as pre-terminated options, already connected to a suitable cable of up to 450m in length.
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