The “Wet Net” World of Underwater Fiber Optic Cables

You panic when even a few drops of water fall on your laptop. Everyone knows that water and electronics don’t “mix.” That’s why it seems so ironic that most of the Internet’s “hard” infrastructure lies underwater on the ocean floor.

 

Virtually all global data travels through millions of miles of submarine fiber optic cables beneath the ocean’s surface. More than 350 submarine cable lines stretch from the U.S. West Coast to the East Coast, with many more being deployed around the world.

 

Installing submarine fiber optic cables deep on the ocean floor is time consuming and expensive. While special ships deploy the cable, ocean divers repair and maintain the network. And even with thick, protective jackets, there are many ways to damage a cable. Some destructive forces include ship anchors, commercial fishing equipment, earthquakes, hurricanes and even sinister interference. (more…)

5G: What’s All the Hoopla About?

There’s been lots of excitement and even some “hype” around the idea of 5G. But what is it really? Does it mean just faster internet? Will it really be that much better than 4G? Many people are asking these questions as the FCC begins to auction the first licenses for the airwaves that will carry 5G service.

 

What Is 5G, Really?

5G will be up to 100 times faster than today’s cellular connections – and even faster than many home broadband services. But it’s not just about speed. Networks will have greater capacity and respond faster than earlier wireless services. More people and devices will work at the same time on the same network without slowing it to a crawl. And it will do all of this with lower latency. Latency is the time delay between a device contacting the network and receiving a response.

 

This improved latency will help to bring about some of the most amazing tech trends on the horizon. And while 5G may not change your life right away, it will certainly bring some totally new technologies to life. For now, here are a few of the most exciting apps and technologies that 5G will enable.

 

Promising 5G Applications

Self-driving vehicles – Self-driving cars will be a common sight with the next generation of wireless service.  And 5G will make vehicle-to-vehicle communication happen – where cars can almost instantly share information between them on their location, speed, acceleration, direction and steering. Many experts believe that this feature will become the greatest lifesaving advance in the auto industry in more than a decade. Using this, cars will know before their drivers when another car moves into your blind spot or when a dump truck that’s six vehicles ahead suddenly stops.

 

Telesurgery – Remote surgery isn’t new. However, 5G could make a huge difference in providing medical care to millions in distant locations, along with training doctors remotely in surgery and other specialties.

 

Virtual Reality – For truly realistic virtual reality (VR), a wireless network must carry tons of data. And while it must be fast, the network must also handle this data deluge to create a life-like VR experience. It will take 5G to make this happen.

 

Drones: 5G technology will let drones talk to one another, helping prevent overhead accidents while in flight.

 

5G wireless networks can make many of the technologies, applications and experiences that we’ve been waiting for a reality.

Can a Quantum Network “Hacker Proof” Fiber Optic Cables?

In 2013, Edward Snowden, a U.S. National Security Agency contractor, leaked documents showing that intelligence agencies were spying on the data of private citizens. One disturbing fact was that the spies tapped into optical fiber cables to access the huge amount of data moving through these cables.

 

Snowden’s disclosures pushed researchers to use quantum science to make this type of hacking impossible. Finally, there are reports of progress.

 

THE QUANTUM KEY DISTRIBUTION APPROACH

A startup called Quantum Xchange will access 500 miles of optical cable along the Eastern U.S. coast. Quantum will use this cable to create the country’s first quantum key distribution (QKD) network.

 

Quantum Xchange’s “QKD approach” would send an encoded message in bits while transmitting the decoding keys as quantum bits, or qubits. Usually in the form of photons, the qubits travel easily along fiber cables. However, any attempt to spy on a qubit would instantly destroy its fragile quantum state, erase any data and leave the mark of an intrusion.

 

One possible issue is that “trusted nodes” must be used to send quantum keys over long distances. These nodes act as repeaters to boost signals in a typical data cable. Quantum Xchange plans to have 13 trusted nodes along its entire network. At these node points, keys are first turned into bits. Then, they are changed back to a quantum state to be sent on. In other words, a hacker could theoretically steal these bits as they are momentarily vulnerable.

 

AN ALTERNATE METHOD: QUANTUM TELEPORTATION

Along with this news, the University of Chicago, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory will jointly develop a test bed to use quantum teleportation to create secure data transmission.

 

Quantum teleportation would use entanglement to eliminate the risk of hacking. Entanglement creates a pair of qubits (usually photons) in a single quantum state. A change in one photon instantly affects the linked photon, even if they are far apart. Therefore, in theory, it should be impossible to hack data transmission using entanglement. This is so because tampering with one of the qubits would destroy both quantum states.

 

However, the entanglement method is still confined to research labs. And there are huge challenges to making this approach work in the real world. According to Dr. David Awschalom of the University of Chicago, creating and maintaining entanglement would be extremely difficult over a long-distance fiber optic network.

 

Dr. Awschalom is leading the project involving the university and the national labs. The goal is to have the test bed use a “plug-and-play” approach that will let the researchers experiment and evaluate different techniques for entangling and transmitting qubits.

 

The U.S. Department of Energy will provide several million dollars to fund the test bed. This test bed will use a 30-mile stretch of installed optical cable between the labs. Members of the Chicago Quantum Exchange will operate the test bed and project. This Exchange consists of 70 scientists and engineers from the three organizations.

 

New Fiber Optic Gyroscope: More Precise, Smaller than a Grain of Rice

Engineers at the California Institute of Technology have created the world’s smallest fiber optic gyroscope. Five hundred times smaller than a regular gyroscope, this new gyro can fit on a grain of rice. This research breakthrough could lead to more accurate fiber optic gyros compared to mechanical units.

 

WHAT OPTICAL GYROS DO

Advanced fiber optic navigation technology is critical for aircraft, missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles and ground vehicles. These machines and other platforms depend on fiber optic gyroscopes to operate safely.

 

HOW THEY DO THEY WORK?

A fiber optic gyroscope detects changes in position or direction using the Sagnac effect. In this way, an optical gyro functions similarly to a mechanical gyro. However, the optical gyro operates by using light passing through a coil of optical fiber.

 

Inside a typical optical gyroscope, a spooled-up optical fiber carries pulses of laser light. Some pulses move clockwise and others go counterclockwise. The gyro measures rotation by detecting tiny changes in how these pulses arrive at a sensor. Researchers have tried to create smaller optical gyros. However, as the size of the gyro shrinks, the signals from its sensor have grown weaker until they are drowned out by “noise” from scattered light.

 

WHAT THE TEAM DID

The Cal Tech research team designed a low-noise, photonic gyroscope. They etched light-guiding channels onto a two-square-millimeter silicon chip. These channels guide the light in each direction around a separate circle. This layout keeps scattered light from confusing the device’s sensors. The new design also reverses the light’s direction from time to time. This change helps to cancel out much of the related “noise.”

 

Optical gyroscopes that use the Sagnac effect to measure rotation could eventually be miniaturized onto nano-photonic platforms. However, thermal fluctuations, component drift and fabrication mismatch often limit the signal-to-noise ratio of these gyros. Because a microscale unit would have a weaker signal, researchers have not yet created an integrated nano-photonic fiber optic gyroscope.

Tales From the Front Line

Interested in fiber optic sensing? If so, you’ll want to check out the “Tales From the Front Line of Fiber Optic Sensing” webinar presented by OptaSense and sponsored by the Fiber Optic Sensing Association (FOSA).

Whether it’s detecting pipeline leaks, damage to railroads or intrusion at critical facilities, fiber optic sensing plays an increasingly important role in protecting and keeping key infrastructure assets operating globally.

The webinar features fiber optic sensing installations across a wide range of industry verticals, applications and locations, including system action videos with the challenges and successes of actual deployments.

To download and view this webinar, go here.
To subscribe to the FOSA e-newsletter, go here.

OFS Salutes the International Day of Photonics

The International Day of Photonics is held every two years to recognize and promote the role of photonics in our world. On this day (October 21 in 2016), organizations work to raise awareness about photonics and the important role that it plays in our lives.

In fact, photonics is a key enabling technology for a wide range of products that surround us. LED lighting, photovoltaic solar energy, photonics integrated circuits, optical components, lasers, sensors, imaging, displays, projectors and optical fiber are only a few of today’s technologies that incorporate photonics.

At OFS, we design, manufacture and provide optical fiber, fiber optic cable, connectivity and fiber-to-the-subscriber (FTTx) products. Our solutions cover a broad range of applications including telecommunications, medicine, industrial automation, sensing, government, aerospace and defense.

To learn more about the International Day of Photonics and photonics technologies, please visit HERE.

Specialty Optical Fiber Coatings: Weathering the “Storm”

Different applications and optical fiber types present varying requirements for fiber coatings. When specialty optical fibers are used in demanding conditions, the fibers require coatings that are sustainable when subjected to harsh circumstances.

In fact, the successful deployment of fiber in these environments can often depend far more on the fiber’s protective external coating rather than its internal optical design. Fibers may be under attack from high and low temperature ranges, excessive humidity, high pressure, aggressive chemicals, mechanical interactions or any combination of these elements.

A recent OFS white paper in NASA Tech Briefs evaluates the stability of commercially available and in-house formulated, acrylate-based coatings to help determine the optimum coating for a range of conditions.  To read more, please go HERE.

Emerging Subsea Networks: The Search for High Capacity and Long Reach

To support the exponential growth of global data traffic, 100 Gb/s submarine transmission systems are being installed in transoceanic links. These systems offer capacity up to ~10 Tb/s on a single core fiber using a C-band Erbium doped fiber amplifier (EDFA).

However, there are distinct challenges involved in developing and deploying high-capacity transoceanic distance transmissions systems. One issue is the need to improve optical signal-to-noise ratio (OSNR) within the entire C- and L-bands.  Another limitation lies in delivering electrical power to the offshore equipment supplying EDFA pumps.  In addition, long haul undersea submarine systems are typically much longer than terrestrial systems and have unique requirements for fiber optic cables and repeaters used in harsh subsea environments.

In a new white paper presented at SubOptic 2016, OFS and OFS Labs researchers discuss key fiber and amplifier technologies that help users to achieve high capacity and long reach for submarine transmission systems. These technologies include ultra-large-effective area, low loss optical fibers and their impact on performance, along with key amplification techniques for both repeatered and repeaterless submarine systems.

To read this paper and learn more, CLICK HERE.

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