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Fiber optic connectivity for the next big thing

(Image credit: Image Credit: Jamesteohart / Shutterstock)

Ninety per cent of the vast pool of digital data in existence today was created in the last two years and, with 2.5 quintillion bytes being created each day, the volume of information swirling around the globe is growing at an alarming rate. 

In business, and in our personal lives, there is a voracious appetite for this data to be readily available at high speed. And what better medium to satisfy our needs for faster-than-the-blink-of-an-eye connectivity than fiber optic cable? 

A fiber optic cable is a network cable containing strands of glass fibers, only slightly thicker than a human hair, inside an insulated casing. It carries communication signals using pulses of light, generated by small lasers or light-emitting diodes.

Compared to wired cables, fiber optic cables offer higher bandwidth and can transmit data over much greater distances. They are also less susceptible to electromagnetic interference. This all means that fiber optic cable is the perfect vessel for long distance, high-performance data networking and telecommunications.   

Optical fiber has played a vital role in making possible the remarkable growth in global communications that has taken place in the last 25 years, and in enabling the use of the Internet by 3.58 billion people as of last year. Going forward, it will be instrumental in delivering innovation in many sectors, supporting new technologies.

Here are three “next big things” that will be made possible by fiber optics: 

1. Ultra-fast broadband and 5G 

We all want fast connectivity to access social media, stream music, download media and keep us entertained 24/7. But, even more important, is the role that speed of communications plays in business, government and the economy.   

The delivery of broadband to homes, offices, services and utilities is of crucial importance to domestic and global economies, with the quick, efficient transfer of data integral to productivity. Growing armies of remote workers and globalized businesses large and small are putting pressure on networks to meet their needs.

Ultrafast broadband, made possible by fiber optics, provides the answer, with download speeds of around 1 gigabit per second. However, in the UK in 2016, FTTP was only available to 2% of premises, compared to Japan (70%), Spain (over 60%) and South Korea (over 60%). So there remains an epic task to bring the speedier connectivity that ultrafast promises to the masses. 

The coming of 5G, the fifth-generation wireless standard, expected to roll-out in 2020, will up the ante. You might think that 5G isn't about fiber networks running under the ground. But, in fact, 5G mobile networks will impact both the wireless side and the wireline side of the global network infrastructure – and 5G’s performance goals depend heavily on the availability of lots and lots of fiber to cell sites. Put simply, you can't have advanced 5G wireless without fiber optic lines everywhere.   

2. IoT and advanced smart technology 

Fuelled by 5G, massive IoT adoption is expected in the coming years. The IoT, advanced technology that can connect billions of devices and interact with them to gather vast amounts of data, has huge potential in the broadcast and media industry, education, engineering, science, healthcare and many other sectors. 

Smart homes kitted out with hundreds of networked devices, connected cars and smart cities are already here, and will become more commonplace as the next decade unfolds. As IoT devices scale-up from a pilot to millions, quick, reliable fiber optic cable infrastructure will be crucial to the success of the interconnected world.

While the label ‘smart city’ has been prematurely dished-out in some instances – cities like Barcelona are well on their way. It is one of the most wired locations in the world, with 500km of fiber optic cable laid across the city, acting as backbone for integrated city systems. These include car-park sensors that inform drivers, via a phone app, which spots are vacant, and in-ground sensors that control irrigation in public parks to avoid wasting precious water resources. 

3. Futuristic technologies: the rise of the machines 

A report from Markets and Markets predicts that the global Artificial Intelligence (AI) industry will surge to $16 billion over the next five years, growing at a CAGR of nearly 63 percent from 2016 to 2022.   

AI is the development of smart systems capable of performing tasks that normally require human intelligence. Machine and deep learning, simulating activity in neural networks of the brain where thinking happens, are included under this umbrella.

While AI sometimes invokes hostility, with some assuming an inevitable rise of robots determined to wipe-out humanity, real-world applications are proving very useful. In many sectors of business, machine learning is automating in-depth analysis of a huge glut of structured and unstructured data.   

In the financial services sector, deep learning and pattern recognition is being used to inform trading and risk management. In healthcare, areas such as neonatal care and cancer treatment are being enhanced by image recognition and machine learning. And city planners are using smart programs to predict traffic congestion and car accidents, as well as the potential impact of natural disasters on buildings.

There has been huge investment by cloud platforms in AI, led by Google, Amazon and Microsoft. It could be argued that AI’s future is in the cloud, but in fact fiber optic networks will be vital to its continued development. Given the enormous volume of information that will need to be digested quickly to create intelligence, cloud computing and fiber-optic networks will have to work hand-in-hand to facilitate AI.

Advanced fiber optic networks, offering high-bandwidth connectivity, and the cloud, will come together to create the ideal environment for AI to thrive.    

Phil Ward, Marketing Director at Opterna (opens in new tab) Europe 

Image Credit: Jamesteohart / Shutterstock

Phil Ward is Marketing Director at Opterna Europe. Opterna powers the digital ecosystem through a fiber optic portfolio covering network infrastructure, data center cabling and pioneering SMART solutions.