Fiber Optics; Features, Benefits, Safety
Actually, a bit of further ado. To start we should probably explain exactly what fiber optic cables are and how they differ from metal wiring.
Since the invention of the electromagnet and the telegraph in the 1820s, electrical wiring has utilized copper (remember what we said about the horse and buggy?). This made sense, since copper scores a WIN in all the right categories: high conductivity (the highest of all non-precious metals), high tensile strength (that helps it resist stretching, scratching, and cuts), and high ductility (which means in addition to being tough, copper is also pliable and flexible).
All of those things are great for electrical applications, but when it comes to network and telecomm situations, it turns out that Ye Olde Coppere Wyre isn’t necessarily the only game in town…and thus we come to the optical fiber. Instead of braided or bundled metal, optical fibers are glass or plastic strands, each only slightly thicker than a single human hair, used to transmit light. As early as 1880, Alexander Graham Bell (aka the guy that invented phones) was using fiber optics to transmit voice signals over an “optical beam”, though it would be some time before the technology was refined enough to be commercially adopted for data transmission. In fact, I’m fairly certain Bell didn’t know much about computer networks at all.
So now, with that out the way, let’s see why fiber might be a better choice in these applications than copper.
Efficiency and Security
I’m about to make kind of a gross metaphor, but bear with me. Much like fiber in the body, fiber optic cables get a lot of stuff where it’s going, fast. Only in the case of cables, the “stuff” is data, not…well, you know. Basically, when compared to copper, fiber optic is much more efficient and secure for network applications. Fiber optic cables can transmit far more information, with a greater degree of fidelity, over greater distances. And since it’s harder to “tap” than copper, it has the added benefit of extra security for the data being transmitted.
To Boldly Go Where No Cable Has Ever Gone Before
Remember when we said copper was great for conducting electricity? Well, because fiber optic cables are glass-based, they aren’t so good at it. Like, at all. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you’re transmitting data instead of electricity. It eliminates the need for grounding, and makes them immune to any type of electrical interference, even lightning. Since fiber optic cabling is so resistant to interference and atmospheric conditions, it can be used outdoors — and in close proximity to electrical cables — without concern.
Glass fibers don’t only avoid interference…they are virtually free from the threat of corrosion, too! While copper cabling is sensitive to water and chemicals, fiber optic cabling runs almost no risk of being damaged by harsher elements. As a result, fiber optic cable can easily endure “living conditions” that coaxial cable just can’t, such as being put in direct contact with soil, or in close proximity to chemicals.
This May Come as a Shock, But … No, it Won’t
Fiber optics may surprise you, they may astound and amaze and take you aback, but one thing they won’t do is shock you. A major benefit of fiber optic cable is that it doesn’t pose a threat of injury of injury from fire, sparking or electrocution to the user if it breaks, since it utilizes light and not electricity.
HOWEVER, there are other risks to keep in mind when using optical fiber cables: the light they transmit isn’t visible to the naked eye, but it can still damage the retina of anyone foolish enough to look directly into a live cable. Additionally, since most fiber is made of very thin glass, it can easily puncture skin if not handled with care. This is mainly an issue with “open fibers”, ie. fibers not wrapped in a protective cable jacket. However, when the cable is stripped, trimmed, and cut, fiber slivers can easily become scattered about and can penetrate skin easily if not properly handled and disposed of.
Be Safe, Not Sorry (Also: Not Filled with Invisible Glass Needles)
To avoid being injured by fiber optics, be sure to take the proper precautions when dealing with them:
- Wear the proper protective eye wear. That includes safety glasses.
- Make sure the work area is properly ventilated and well-lit.
- Avoid smoking, eating and drinking in the work area.
- Wear a disposable apron to avoid fiber shards getting on clothes. Also check clothes for fibers.
- Wash hands thoroughly before touching your face or eyes.
- Use a securely closed container for discarded fiber scraps. Properly dispose of it when finished.Thoroughly clean the site when the job is done.
But it’s not all doom and gloom; far from it! Come to the light (just don’t look directly at it!) and let fiber optics take your telecommunications or datacom network to a whole new level. From the cables themselves, to patch cords, to network testers and wallmount fiber enclosures, we have everything you need at