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As you are no doubt aware, the existing telecommunications infrastructure which is utilised around the country for phone and data requirements will not be suitable to take us forward into the near future adequately. Thus the Australian Government has committed to the development of the National Broadband Network in order to ensure that as we move into the future, the connectivity requirements of the nation are met. This will be achieved through rolling out the NBN using a mix of NBN satellite technology and fibre optic cables.

But what exactly is fibre optics and how does it work? We thought we would introduce you to the world of optics and help you understand why this technology is about to revolutionise Australia’s broadband network.

History of Fibre Optics

It was in 1870, that a scientist named John Tyndall conceptualized and demonstrated that a beam of light would travel along a jet of water using internal refractory elements. Though water proved to be a less than ideal medium for conducting the light, it did show that transmission of light could be guided. It was only during the 1950s however, that this concept materialized even further. In 1956 scientists used fibrescopes to show that light could be guided through all-glass fibres and directed from a source to a destination.

It was engineers however, not pure scientists, who realised some of the greater benefits of optical fibres. Specifically, they determined that light energy had the ability to carry 10,000 times more information than a radio wave and was therefore a much better tool for the future communication requirements of the world. However, due to the fact that light energy from a laser would be affected by environmental conditions – egrading the signal and information – they needed a solution. Hence they turned to scientists involved with fibre optics and began the search for effective transmission mechanisms.

How Fibre Optics Work

The original development of the fiberscope and subsequent optic fibre were conceptually brilliant, however, the optic cables themselves were not constructed well enough to ensure efficient transmission. Today however, optic fibres are made from thin glass or plastic (around the size of a human hair) and are designed in such a way as to effectively refract and carry a light source along its length; from a semi-conductor laser (light emitting diode), through to the destination. Best of all, fibre optics allows light to follow a non-linear path meaning the destination and the source do not need to be in direct line of sight.

The beauty of fibre optics is that different wavelengths of light can be used down the same fibre, allowing a myriad of messages to be sent down the same fibre at the same time. It is this premise that allows fibre optics to be so valuable in the creation of the NBN fibre network. Messages can be sent, received and diverted to appropriate receivers using the same path and equipment, without any overload being experienced in the cable. And in case you are interested, this is known as Wavelength-division multiplexing.

Speeds available through Fibre Optics

In Australia, the NBN Co, responsible for the roll out of the network, has forecast that the average household/business will have data rates in excess of one gigabyte per second whilst some facilities will have access to 12 gigabytes per second. Scientists around the world however, are working on developing technologies which increase the through rates and the distance a signal can travel without degradation, to ensure that fibre optic technology can keep pace with the demands of the earth’s population which is using more data bandwidth than ever before.

In experiments by NEC, scientists were able to generate speeds of 101 terabytes per second through fibre optic cables. This is well in excess of the 12 gigabytes we are looking to potentially achieve in Australia in the immediate future, but it does bode well for the technology we are investing in currently as a nation. One can only but try to imagine the things we will achieve into the future and what will be possible as a result of the infrastructure we are laying down today.

Read more about the benefits of NBN fibre.

*nbn™ and other nbn™ logos and brands are trade marks of nbn co limited and used under licence.
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