Fiber Network: How Does it Work and What are its Alternatives?

We rely on Internet access at work, home, school, and vacation. But not just any access will do. After all, the faster, the better. High-speed Internet is no longer a good-to-have but a necessity. Without fast connectivity, individuals, families, businesses, and entire communities face significant impediments to fulfilling everyday tasks. Fiber network Is the medium through which fast and reliable Internet connectivity has been possible. This means quicker uploads and downloads as well as seamless, high-quality streaming. Also, optical fiber backbones facilitate everything from e-commerce and remote learning, to healthcare and agriculture.

1. Understanding Optical Fiber

Fiber cables

An optical fiber network is an ultra-high-speed broadband connection with low-lag time that relies on fiber optic cables. 

The structure of a fiber optic cable

A single fiber optic cable may contain multiple strands of pure glass or transparent plastic ranging from a few to several hundred. Furthermore, each strand is only marginally wider than the average diameter of human hair. Surrounding the glass strand is cladding, a layer of pure silica or transparent plastic but at a different density from the strand. And it has a lower refractive index than the strand thus reflecting the light pulses back. So the light pulses won’t escape from the core thus facilitating their forward propagation. Besides, an additional layer referred to as a buffer tube wraps around the cladding to protect it from moisture and damage. Lastly, an outer jacket serves as the final protection. 

Fiber Network–The science

Instead of electrons, fiber networks use light particles or photons to transmit data in binary form (similar to the 0s and 1s used in electronics). Optical fiber relies on the total internal reflection of light. Photons (i.e. light particles) repeatedly bounce off the walls by hitting the glass at shallow angles (less than 42 degrees). The glass strand traps light pulses within its walls thus relaying the signal from one end to the other by total internal reflection. The light does not exit the glass but rather bounces within it and is therefore totally internally reflected inside the medium. 

With light pulses traveling at about 70 percent the speed of light, fiber networks far surpass the speeds of other broadband Internet options. And it offers symmetrical download and upload speeds which means the download speed is the same as upload speed.

Network components use laser diodes or LEDs to convert electrical signals to light pulses for transmission via the fiber optic bales. An optical detector thereafter converts the pulses to electrical signals. Fiber networks do not rely on electricity which means they do not experience disruption as a result of power outages.

Fiber Network–Installation

Internet service providers install fiber optic cables either above ground or underground. If above ground, one would string the cables across poles. But aerial installation is often the last resort due to the risk of damage to fragile fiber cables from storms, tree branches, and other utility works. 

Underground cable is the most popular option. Service providers would usually bury the cables in ducts or conduits.

Application

The main uses of fiber optics include long cable runs, fiber distributed data interface (FDDI) backbones, industrial environments with high levels of electromagnetic interference (EMI), and connections to high-performance computers.

2. Types of the Last Mile of Fiber Internet Connection

Once fiber networks reach or near their destination, they enter the last stretch of fiber connecting the end-user to the Internet. This stretch is the “last mile” though it is often shorter than a mile. At the end of the last mile, an optical network terminal(ONT) converts the light pulses into electrical signals for electrical Ethernet.

Internet service providers denote last-mile fiber connections as fiber to the X (FTTX) with X representing where the optical cable ends. The most common types of last-mile are FTTC, FTTN, FTTB, and FTTH.

Fiber to the Curb or Cabinet (FTTC)

FTTC implies the fiber connection goes to the utility box or pole that is nearest to you. From that point, coaxial cables transmit the signal to your home. Depending on the context, internet service providers also refer to FTTC as fiber to the street (FTTS).

Fiber to the Neighborhood or Node (FTTN)

FTTN provides a fiber network connection to hundreds of customers over a mile radius of the node. The remaining connection to your home from the node is via a DSL line using existing telephone lines. The further you are from the node, the more signal distortion and attenuation you can expect to experience. 

Fiber to the Building (FTTB)

With FTTB, the fiber optic line terminates at the building. Telephone or coaxial cables thereafter distribute the signal to the occupants of the building.  Regularly,  it is for apartment blocks, schools, hotels, or multi-tenant office blocks.

Fiber to the Home (FTTH)

In FTTH, the fiber connection runs all the way to the end user’s business, home, or computer. For this reason, industry analysts often term it a pure fiber connection. FTTH is the fastest last-mile connection but also the most expensive.

If your home or premises is not already fiber-ready, your Internet service provider would have to dig nearby or drill holes as part of the setup. Depending on the context, internet service providers may refer to FTTH as fiber to the premises (FTTP), fiber to the desktop (FTTD), or fiber to the business (FTTB).

3. The Disadvantage of Fiber Network

The Disadvantage of Fiber Network

From what we have covered so far, the advantages of fiber networks are apparent. However, they do have significant disadvantages as well.

Fiber Network–Expensive

Fiber optic networks are expensive and difficult to install particularly in rural areas where there may be a need to establish entirely new infrastructure.

Cut often lead to total failure

Fiber optic cables may be less susceptible to damage but when something does go wrong such as a cable cut, it often leads to total failure. The cables, therefore, require more resilient outer jacket protection than copper cables.

Not widely available

Whereas fiber networks have expanded rapidly in recent years, they are not available everywhere. You are more likely to find fiber in areas with high population density.

More fragile

Fiber networks are relatively fragile. You can break or lose the signal if you curve or bend the cable beyond a certain radius.

4. Alternatives to Fiber-optic Network

Alternatives to Fiber-optic Network

There are alternatives to fiber-optic networks. The following are the fiber network’s main competitors.

Fiber Network–DSL internet

DSL stands for digital subscriber line. It relays data signals using inaudible frequencies on copper telephone lines. That way, it does not compete with the voice transmission on the same lines. Average speeds of DSL Internet range between 1 and 100Mbps. It would take 1-14 hours to download a 6 GB file on DSL Internet. That compares to about a minute for fiber networks.

DSL internet has low environmental and financial cost since phone lines are available almost everywhere including rural areas. Its main disadvantages are asymmetrical upload/download speeds, significant signal attenuation, and susceptibility to EMI.

Cable internet

Cable Internet uses the same (or the same type of) copper coaxial cable that you use for your cable television service. Speeds vary broadly and may be as high as 940Mbps on average. You would require anywhere between 1 minute and 14 hours to download a 6GB file on cable Internet. 

Since you use the same cable as the television service, it is affordable. On the downside, cable internet speeds depend on the number of users connected to the neighborhood’s central node. More users mean slower speeds, especially during peak usage hours.

Fiber Network–Wireless internet

As the name suggests, wireless Internet is not dependent on a wired connection. The most common form of wireless internet is cell phone services. Radio waves broadcast from cell phone towers and sent via frequencies facilitate signal transmission. 

A key advantage of wireless internet is that access is more independent of your physical location. But such mobility comes at a cost—there is a lower signal strength when you compare it to a wired connection. And just like cable internet, it is susceptible to congestion with increasing numbers of users.

Fiber Network–Wireless internet

As the name suggests, wireless Internet is not dependent on a wired connection. The most common form of wireless internet is cell phone services. Radio waves broadcast from cell phone towers and sent via frequencies facilitate signal transmission. 

A key advantage of wireless internet is that access is more independent of your physical location. But such mobility comes at a cost—there is a lower signal strength when you compare it to a wired connection. And just like cable internet, it is susceptible to congestion with increasing numbers of users.

Conclusion

Fiber cables are often hidden from view as they remain buried deep under city streets and office floors. Most people do not realize how much their daily routine relies on optical fiber. Your very ability to read this article is almost certainly thanks to a fiber network. 

Do you want to enjoy a quick internet speed?  Get in touch with us for assistance and supply with cable assemblies.

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