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Our current "age of technology" is the result of many brilliant inventions and discoveries, but it is our ability to transmit information, and the media we use to do it, that is perhaps most responsible for its evolution. Progressing from the copper wire of a century ago to today’s fiber optic cable, our increasing ability to transmit more information, more quickly and over longer distances has expanded the boundaries of our technological development in all areas.

Today’s low-loss glass fiber optic cable offers almost unlimited bandwidth and unique advantages over all previously developed transmission media. The basic point-to-point fiber optic transmission system consists of three basic elements: the optical transmitter, the fiber optic cable and the optical receiver. (See Figure 1.)

The Optical Transmitter: The transmitter converts an electrical analog or digital signal into a corresponding optical signal. The source of the optical signal can be either a light emitting diode, or a solid state laser diode. The most popular wavelengths of operation for optical transmitters are 850, 1300, or 1550 nanometers.

Most Fiberlink® transmission equipment manufactured by Communications Specialties operates at wavelengths of 850 or 1300nm.

The Fiber Optic Cable: The cable consists of one or more glass fibers, which act as waveguides for the optical signal. Fiber optic cable is similar to electrical cable in its construction, but provides special protection for the optical fiber within. For systems requiring transmission over distances of many kilometers, or where two or more fiber optic cables must be joined together, an optical splice is commonly used.

The Optical Receiver: The receiver converts the optical signal back into a replica of the original electrical signal. The detector of the optical signal is either a PIN-type photodiode or avalanche-type photodiode.

Most Fiberlink® receiving equipment uses PIN-type photodiodes. 

Advantages of Fiber Optic Systems
Fiber optic transmission systems – a fiber optic transmitter and receiver, connected by fiber optic cable – offer a wide range of benefits not offered by traditional copper wire or coaxial cable. These include:

1. The ability to carry much more information and deliver it with greater fidelity than either copper wire or coaxial cable.

2. Fiber optic cable can support much higher data rates, and at greater distances, than coaxial cable, making it ideal for transmission of  serial digital data.

3. The fiber is totally immune to virtually all kinds of interference, including lightning, and will not conduct electricity. It can therefore   come in direct contact with high voltage electrical equipment and power lines. It will also not create ground loops of any kind.

4. As the basic fiber is made of glass, it will not corrode and is unaffected by most chemicals. It can be buried directly in most kinds of  soil or exposed to most corrosive atmospheres in chemical plants without significant concern.

5. Since the only carrier in the fiber is light, there is no possibility of a spark from a broken fiber. Even in the most explosive of atmospheres, there is no fire hazard, and no danger of electrical shock to personnel repairing broken fibers.

6. Fiber optic cables are virtually unaffected by outdoor atmospheric conditions, allowing them to be lashed directly to telephone poles or existing electrical cables without concern for extraneous signal pickup.

7. A fiber optic cable, even one that contains many fibers, is usually much smaller and lighter in weight than a wire or coaxial cable with similar information carrying capacity. It is easier to handle and install, and uses less duct space. (It can frequently be installed without ducts.)

8. Fiber optic cable is ideal for secure communications systems because it is very difficult to tap but very easy to monitor. In addition, there is absolutely no electrical radiation from a fiber.

How are fiber optic cables able to provide all of these advantages? This guide will provide an overview of fiber optic technology – with sections devoted to each of the three system components – transmitters, receivers, and the fiber cable itself. An appreciation of the underlying technology will provide a useful framework for understanding the reasons behind its many benefits.

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