How Fiber Optics Technologies Made Our World Better

What technology is behind such 21st-century marvels as telecommunications, remote sensing, power transmission, and medical endoscopy—all while relying on a material that’s not much thicker than a human hair? That field of technology is called fiber optics, and its main product—optical fibers—are used in a wide range of modern-day applications today.

Fiber optics concerns the use of these optical fibers—small, thin, and transparent fibers commonly made out of glass or plastic—in order to transmit light signals. In a digital world whose necessities and conveniences are highly driven by forces like the Internet, fiber optics is one of the many modern technologies that keep us connected. In this article, you’ll learn about the other ways these humble yet versatile fibers have changed our world for the better.

“Enlightening” Principles for Fiber Optics

The grounding principle of fiber optics is that of total internal reflection. Light travels in a straight line unless the light beams are guided by something external, for example a mirror. Inside of an optical fiber, the transmitted light travels through a core. It then bounces off an outer optical material surrounding the core, called cladding, just like how it would on a mirror. These two layers in the fiber are protected by an additional buffer coating, which insulates them against external damage and moisture. Optical fibers can be bundled and arranged in the thousands to form a cable.

The term “fiber optics” was coined by an Indian physicist named Narinder Singh Kapany. With fellow scientist Harold Hopkins, Kapany was able to assemble bundles of up to several thousand fibers in order to achieve image transmission. Kapany went on to spearhead several groundbreaking releases on fiber optics, including the papers “A Flexible Fiberscope, Using Static Scanning” in Nature, “Transparent Fibres for the Transmission of Optical Images” in Optica Acta, and the “Fibre Optics” seminar article in Scientific American. Without Dr. Kapany’s breakthroughs in fiber optics, we would probably not have technologies like high-speed communications and laser surgery in our world today.

Insights on Optical Fiber Production

The industrial demand for fiber optics is understandably high. Manufacturers have turned to implements like fiber optics assembly machines with low-profile linear bearings  for quick, efficient, and highly precise manufacturing of these hair-thin fibers. Both single-mode fibers (with small cores that are up to 9 microns in diameter, capable of transmitting infrared laser light) and multi-mode fibers (with larger cores of up to 62.5 microns in diameter, capable of transmitting light from light-emitting diodes [LEDs]) are commonly manufactured into optical cables.

In recent decades, optical cables have surged in popularity over their traditional long-distance copper counterparts. An optical cable’s physical properties make it easier for light to travel through long distances without additional signal boosting. The same physical properties also grant it a higher carrying capacity for network bandwidth, in addition to rendering it less susceptible to electromagnetic interference than a copper cable. The significant upgrades seen in fiber optics technology in recent years have also brought out its vast new potentials in various industries.

Important Applications of Fiber Optics Technology Today

Fiber optics renders light capable of transmitting communication signals, conveying massive amounts of data and even acting as a power source at the same time.  The many specific applications of fiber optics include the following:


The sector we perceive to have gained the most from fiber optics is telecommunications. Through a process called wavelength-division multiplexing, a single fiber can handle a number of independent channels while using different wavelengths of light. Optical fibers are used both in long-distance connections between channels, and short-distance connections between individual devices (such as the digital audio optical connections present in high-definition TVs).


Power lines

Power transmission is another key application of fiber optics. The use of optical fibers to transmit energy rather than to carry data is called “power-over-fiber” technology. This method proves useful in guarding a power source from volatile elements, such as lightning or explosives.

Sensor technology

Optical fibers can be modified to act as intrinsic sensors—the “sensing” element in remote sensors, or as extrinsic sensors that convey signals from a sensor to a separate electronic device. Sensors that operate around fiber optics systems prove especially valuable for when the users are situated in areas with potent electronic or magnetic fields.


Medical devices

Fiber optics is also widely used in tools for medical procedures. They are the common illumination component for devices used in ophthalmic laser treatment, endoscopies, and even minimally invasive laser surgery in procedures as risky and delicate as open heart surgery.

Fiber optics technology continues to spur forward in this millennium.  We’re excited to see how much further it will take us all “down the wire”!