What are fibre optics?
As devices become interconnected with another, especially as the Internet of Things (IoT) further evolves, network connections will have to become much reliable and resilient in order to handle the increased workload.
This is where the role of fibre optic cabling will become essential. Essentially, it is like another network cable, but rather than containing lines of copper, it consists primarily of long strands of glass fibre. It is encased in insulated wiring.
When compared to the other forms of traditional network cabling (such as that of the ethernet), fibre optics provide the means in which much higher levels of bandwidth can be provided, and transmit data packets over very long distances.
The strands of glass are only about as thick as a piece of human hair. The centre of this is known as the core and provides the means in which the light can travel at amazingly fast speeds. The glass surrounds the core, which is technically known as the “cladding”.
This is designed in such a way that the path of light is reflected inwards, so that there are no disturbances in the flow of the data packets, especially where the fibre optic cabling bends.
There are two main types of fibre optic cabling:
1) Single mode:
This makes use of a technique called “Wave Division Multiplexing” (WDM). This permits the varying wavelengths to be combined (which is known as “multiplexing”) or separated (this is known as “de-multiplexed”). The end result of this is that multiple streams of data packets can flow in one light pulse.
This kind of configuration makes use of various Light Emitting Diodes, also known as LEDs.
The advantages of fibre optics
There are numerous benefits to fibre optics, such as:
- It can support an extremely high network throughput. For example, the cabling can come in as high as 100 Gbps.
- There is no need for signal boosters, as you would normally need with ethernet cabling. This is because the light that is being transmitted can travel an exceptionally long distance without losing its strength.
- It does not require any special shielding, because fibre optics is not susceptible to electromagnetic interference.
Despite these advantages, fibre optics is still poorly understood, and because of that, there are many myths that surround its use. The next section will examine this and examine the reality.
The myths of fibre optics debunked
Myth #1: Fibre optics are too expensive for my budget:
When we hear this term, the immediate thought is the expense that is involved. But the truth is, they really are not that expensive now, and are very comparable in price when compared to the ethernet cabling. In fact, many Server Message Blocks (SMBs) can now afford fibre optics. Keep in mind, you will achieve tremendous cost savings down the road because you are using light instead of copper to transmit the data packets. Plus, it requires less power consumption and equipment to maintain. One fibre optic cable can outlive nine generations of a copper cabling. Continued demand for fibre optics and the ways in which the signals are terminated will bring the price of it even further downwards. Cost savings can be as much as 25%-50% when compared to copper.
Myth #2: Because glass is used, fibre optics are not durable:
The misconception here is that since glass can be easily broken, so can the fibre optic cabling. But remember that there are hundreds and hundreds of such strands in a single cable line, thus making it extraordinarily strong to withstand all sorts of environments. In fact, the military uses fibre optics quite extensively in the harshest of climates, and the cabling can withstand over 200 pounds of pulling tension. In fact, it is even used across the ocean and Arctic-like weather conditions.
Myth #3: Fibre optic cabling is dangerous:
Since light is used, there is minimal risk of a fire hazard, as opposed to copper cabling. Since light is used, there is also virtually no risk when it comes to electromagnetic interference with other nearby electronic equipment. It is also considered to be much more eco-friendly than the use of copper.
Myth #4: The deployment can be burdensome and time consuming:
When fibre optic cabling first came out into commercial use in the 1990’s, the installation took quite a bit of time. But since then, the technology has improved greatly, and it makes the deployment rather quick. In fact, it is easy to install, and your vendor does not even need to come out to test the lines. It can be tested by virtually anybody that has a cabling background. A prime advantage here is that fibre optic cabling requires far less few routing requirements than copper.
Myth #5: Glass cannot be bent:
While this is true of a normal drinking glass, it is not for fibre optic cabling. While they are sensitive to certain things, they can be bent to get to those hard to reach places and meet the needs of any SMB. The introduction of multi-mode fibre optics (as discussed earlier) has increased the bendability of this type of cable.
Myth #6: It does not support wireless networks:
The reality is that many wireless carriers (such as Verizon, ATT&T, T-Mobile, etc.) now rely upon fibre optic cabling because of its long-term durability and speed and is expected to fully support the 5G wireless networks.
Myth #7: It is less secure than copper:
The truth is that fibre optic cabling is much more secure. For example, it provides high levels of protection at both the physical and data layer, and even at the network ports. This can greatly reduce the risk of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack from occurring.
Myth #8: It is difficult to manage after it has been installed:
To manage the entire network, fibre optic cabling makes use of a graphical user-based interface rather than the traditional Craft User Interface (CUI) that is required of copper. This means that any issues or problems can be resolved very quickly, and most of the time, does not require human intervention, when compared to copper.
The issues of choosing OEM versus third-party optics
When deciding upon a fibre optic vendor, you can either go with an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) or third-party brand. Here are some of the key questions that usually get asked in this regard:
1) What is the difference between the OEM versus a third-party brand?
There is really no difference between the two, but the OEM is going to be more expensive. The reason for this is that they private label the cabling.
2) Is there a difference in the level of quality?
Because OEM brands are privately labelled, the misconception is that they are of a higher quality. But the level is the same (or perhaps even better) with a third-party brand. It is important to note that even third-party fibre optic cabling must go through a very rigorous set of quality testing before they can be sold to the mass market.
3) In the end, what should I go with?
This is dependent upon your own preferences. If you have the budget and feel that a private label brand creates a higher level of acceptance from your managers, then perhaps you should go with an OEM brand. But if you have to stay within a certain a budget, then your best bet would be with a third-party brand. Some of the advantages of the latter are of course lower pricing, but you will also have a larger variety of fibre optic cabling to meet your needs.
Ravi Das is a Cybersecurity Consultant and Business Development Specialist. He also does Cybersecurity Consulting through his private practice, RaviDas Tech, Inc. He also possesses the Certified in Cybersecurity (CC) cert from the ISC2.