A Brief History of Service Provider Optical Transport

Sometimes in our classes we just don’t get the time (nor is it warranted) to look back and see how revolutionary technologies all got started! Let’s enjoy a moment of Zen with this right now in the area of optical transport. I am not sure about you, but I have a VERY fuzzy recollection of how this magic of fiber optics came to be!

The year was 1960, and not one, but two, lasers were invented that helped give rise to optical communications as we know them today. These lasers were the solid state ruby laser and the He-Ne gas laser. These powerful light sources, combined with modulation at high frequencies, could offer the bandwidth for never-before thought of amounts of data!

By about 1963, it became clear to the experimenters that “free-space” transmission was just too problematic due to ever-changing and pesky atmospheric conditions. To better control the medium, bundles of glass fibers were experimented with. In 1966, a paper was published that helped prove the issue that was holding this back – attenuation due to imperfections in the glass material. Sure enough, in 1970, none other than Corning Glass Works demonstrated transmissions that rivaled the distances of copper competitors.

It did not take long – the optical transport push was upon us. Why not? There would be much greater bandwidth available with less data loss over longer distances! Boom! Win-win!

By the 1980s, worldwide optical networks began hitting the Earth with a fervor. These networks began carrying cable TV, phone calls, and other telco-related traffic. Some of these connections were operating at 430 Mbps. I know it is difficult to envision now, but this was screaming fast then.

Just as we did decades ago, today we like to classify optical transport into two general categories. There is short-distance and long-distance. These are often called short-haul versus long-haul networks. Short-haul might be used within a city, while long-haul technology could be used to connect cities.

We hope you enjoyed this post! What’s next? Well, we are planning a post that will help you understand the three common approaches to the multiple access requirement we have with optical networks. These are:

  • Wavelength Division Multiple Access
  • Time Division Multiple Access
  • Code Division Multiple Access

We hope you will join us for that, and we also hope you consider (at least a free) membership to Lammle.com!

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