The global communications network is probably one of the largest endeavors ever taken on by humans. We have seen that there is not one technology but several technologies coming together to build this network. As our demand for communications increases, more and more technologies become obsolete or inadequate. The breakthrough created by the manufacture of optical fibers have given birth to a new discipline: photonics, or the science of mastering light.
A single optical fibre is able to carry the equivalent of 300,000,000 simultaneous telephone calls. This new photonics technology enables, for the first time, sufficient capacity to meet the forecast demand for fully interactive, multimedia, internet services.
By replacing copper cables with glass, new photonic networks can span the globe with light highways linking cities, countries and continents and capable of transmitting information via multiple channels of different wavelengths - just as broadcasting uses multiple TV and radio channels to transmit audio and visual information.
Optical fiber and photonic technologies can also be used in other industrial applications. Theoretically, almost any physical or environmental parameter can be measured using light, including temperature, strain, electric current, vibration, chemical and biological pollution, or sound.
Optical communications have come a long way since the optical telegraph invented by French engineer Claude Chappe in the late 18th century, and are exceedingly more complex than the system of flashing lights used by ships as a means of optical communications. Today, fiber optics-those long strands of very pure glass that are only approximately the diameter of a human hair-are part of our highly technological telecommunications system.
So what is next in the world of fiber optics? According to an announcement made in May by three of the nation's largest telecommunications service providers (Verizon, BellSouth and SBC Communications Inc.), it may be fiber to the...