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Joe Issac Joe Issac Written by Joe Issac, Senior Principal Architect, Technology Group
on 20 Mar 2024

Optical fiber-based network deployments have evolved to meet the requirements of modern-day technology applications. The market share of fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) connections in fixed broadband connections has grown over the years. The global FTTH market size is estimated at $47 billion in 2022 and is projected toward upward growth at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12% from 2023 to 2030.

Born of a Wildly Successful Experiment

The evolution of FTTH networks dates to the 1970s, to an experiment with fused silica. The fiber technology developed by Dr Schultz and Maurer had a 60000 to 65000 times higher capacity than the existing legacy copper cables. Today, FTTH has transformed the quality of our lives by providing residential homes with the choice of high-speed connectivity—and has swiftly become the preferred norm for connecting to the Internet. The penetration rate of FTTH connectivity is around 50%-60% in about 20 to 25 countries, with UAE leading the race at 97%-98%, followed by Singapore.

Real growth at FTTH networks is attributed to economic affordability, retail user acceptability, and the social benefits associated with this technology. Certainly, VAS services provided by FTTH improve people's quality of life by connecting them with high-speed Internet from DSL variants to optical routers’ acceptability. Since optical signals are faster and unaffected by noise, crosstalk, or other interference, an FTTH network can deliver uninterrupted Fibernet Internet over much larger distances. A steady decline in the cost of optical fiber and FTTH equipment has further led to widespread acceptance of fiber-to-the-home.

Signaling Challenges

Many Fiber optic technology faces challenges that limit its optical performance and potential. For example, fiber optic loss generally happens when light intensity and quality are reduced as it traverses data through the fiber optic cable length, determined by the SNR (signal-to-noise ratio), BER (bit error rate), and Transmission distance (TD) of the system. Neutralizing this issue calls for placing amplifiers, repeaters, and regenerators to boost and restore the signal along the long fiber optic link. Fiber optic dispersion causes distortion, interference, and crosstalk of the signal due to variations in the speed of light with wavelength and its mode. Dispersion compensation modules, dispersion-shifted fibers, and coherent detection techniques are deployed to correct and compensate for the signal. Fiber optic security is typically exposed to environmental factors, physical attacks like tapping or breaking the fiber, or optical security attacks such as intercepting, snooping, or blocking the optical signal. To improve cybersecurity, techniques such as encryption, authentication, and monitoring methods are adopted to encrypt, verify, and detect the signal.

Why Fiber Optics is Critical to the World?

The safety, speed, and security of fiber optics come at a premium cost compared to other cable options available in the market. But compared with the rising costs of copper, which is used in cable technology, it remains competitively priced in the marketplace. Also, metallic wiring is naturally thicker, which reduces load capacity and makes installation difficult in more challenging environments. Fiber optics provide the clarity and safety that modern homeowners and business leaders expect in infrastructure projects. The upfront costs of fiber deployment still remain significant with longer TCO/ROI analysis. However, service providers will continue to reduce operating costs by reusing infrastructure in smart ways. FTTH and 5G are complementing technologies and could share network infrastructure. Both rely on fiber availability and require many fiber connection points. Combining infrastructure and rollouts for both technologies offers excellent opportunities to increase efficiency and realize cost improvements in the coming years. There can be 5G wireless connectivity with adequate fiber backhaul and fronthaul connectivity. Increasingly, fiber is also required to support 5G macro cell, small cell, and antenna tower infrastructure.

Increasing Adoption

Government Technology magazine describes fiber optic technology as “future proof.” Telcos like Comcast are transitioning from copper coaxial cable to hybrid or fully fiber optic cable assemblies. Many experts believe fiber optics may be more beneficial than wireless for increasingly sophisticated electronics. Fiber cables don’t seem to degrade in performance unlike other complementing technology infrastructure. Likely, the future of fiber optics will outlast the next generation of devices and industrial requirements. Fiber cables are so widely used because they are highly secure. Optical technology does not contain an electromagnetic field, so data cannot be intercepted, slowed, or jumbled with other signals. Wavelength division multiplexing increases bandwidth capacity further by allowing different carriers to transmit optical signals. Orbital angular momentum technology forces light waves to twist in a spiral manner, thus increasing their ability to transmit information in a highly scalable manner. Experts at Technology Networks have even speculated that this method of transmission could increase transmission speeds by 100 times over the next few years.

Growth Driven by Surround Technologies

The demand for fiber optic technology is expected to grow significantly in the coming years due to its wide range of applications in areas such as cloud computing, 5G, IoT, artificial intelligence, and smart cities. In addition, fiber optic innovation will focus on improving system performance, efficiency, and functionality by developing new materials, designs, and techniques. Innovations include hollow-core fibers, which reduce the loss and dispersion of the signal; photonic crystal fibers, which enable the transmission of light with novel properties; and fiber optic devices, which enable optical signal processing. Lastly, fiber optic regulation will involve establishing and enforcing standards that ensure the quality, reliability, compatibility, and security of systems while addressing ethical and environmental issues. 10 Gigabit passive optical network (GPON) technology was an industry-adopted standard in 2023 and a pioneering step that offered download and upload speeds of up to 10 Gbps. Some operators are looking at 25GPON; at some point, the industry may even be looking at trial 100GPON.

Moving towards a Fiber-Enabled Digital World!

The next heated debate centers on using the current laid fiber conduit mechanism. Quantum networking promises more significant levels of security, much more scalable architectures, and improved communications capabilities using quantum bits that can be zero and one simultaneously. A quantum network is built on three main elements. The quantum conduit acts as the physical pathway for sending quantum bits (qubits). Free-space and fiber-optic channels are two prevalent types of conduits. Quantum repeaters play a crucial role in establishing reliable connections between distant nodes.

This allows more complex operations to be performed and ensures that quantum Internet is much more efficient for specific applications. The opening of the first commercial quantum network happened in 2023. However, other networks are in the planning stage, and significant broadband hardware companies are developing advanced hardware. Quantum networks will be increasingly deployed in the days to come.

Broadband manufacturers will innovate and develop quantum hardware devices that meet the challenges ahead and support a future-enabled digital world. The savings projected by fiber will naturally grow and increase exponentially. Once the 5G wireless network is widely available, end retail users will use more streaming and remote working services and more virtual and augmented reality applications, further boosting fiber requirements. 6G is on the horizon, and the Wi-Fi 7 standard will be published in 2024, further pushing bandwidth demands.

Research and development are constantly pushing the boundaries of what's possible with fiber optics. Advances like multicore fibers, hollow-core fibers, and space-division multiplexing aim to increase data transmission capacity even further. Additionally, innovations in materials and manufacturing are making fiber optic cables more affordable and easier to install, leading to wider adoption.

 

About the Author

Joe Issac has 28 years of experience in IT & Telecom, focusing on Network Engineering & Communication Service Providers. He's led early technology adoption, conceptualizing, designing, and developing solutions for global T1 & T2 customers. Joe has built 14+ platforms & products including NG-OSS/BSS, Green Energy Management, Radio Network Emulators, Cloud Car, and Software Defined Vehicle. He's served as chief architect on various projects, specializing in Telecom B/OSS, SDN NFV, Telco Cloud, Edge Networks, 5G & 6G ORAN Radio Networks, Network Automation, and Automotive domains. Joe is a senior IEEE member, ACM member, and actively contributes to technical forums like FB-TIP, ORAN Alliance, and LF-ONAP.

 

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