Data At the Speed of Light

Fiber optic technology was invented several years ago as a way to use light instead of electricity to send data. A fiber optic cable consists of small, but very long, glass fibers. Light shone through one end is reflected through the fiber to the other end.

This technology has dramatic implications on the electronics industry. For example, fiber optic cable has no electrical resistance or loss, so data has the capability to transfer at significantly higher speeds, especially over long distances. It also requires much less power. Since there is no hard-wired electrical connection, fiber is a great way to prevent grounding problems when connecting two buildings, as well as the threat of electrical surges and lightning strikes.

So far, this technology has remained out of reach for most organizations for cost reasons. Currently it would cost about three to four times more to wire an office for data traffic using fiber optic cable and network cards. However the technology is starting to show up in new applications such as CPUs.

One of the big problems with computers is that to gain speed, chip makers must increase voltage or shrink the size of the millions of transistors on today's microprocessors. This results in a major heat problem, resulting in the increasing number of cooling fans in today's equipment.

Using light, manufacturers hope to eliminate this problem altogether, while at the same time providing faster speeds. Lucent Technologies has already announced they are working on a light-based router that will greatly increase the bandwidth on the nationwide Internet backbone.

Ultimately the goal is to move all computing toward optical technology in order to reap these benefits.

April 2000

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