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Wherever we are in the world, digital communications are made possible almost instantaneously by tiny packets of data travelling vast distances from one server to another via tiny strands of optical fiber. We take it almost for granted that every time we pick up a mobile phone, switch on a computer - or even a smart television - that we will instantly be connected to the worldwide web in the blink of an eye.

The history of optical fiber goes all the way back to the late 19th century, when scientists realised it was possible to transmit images by refracting light through glass rods. The first functional optical fiber data transmission system was demonstrated in 1965, and the rest, as they say, is history - although it took many decades of technological innovation and infrastructure development to make optical fiber a financially viable alternative to copper wire.

Hungry for the fiber

Now, as optical fiber networks have become ubiquitous, demand has for data has mushroomed exponentially. In the era of streaming and gaming, the world hungers for ever-faster broadband and connectivity, and now a new technological development may be the first step to an even faster type of optical fiber cable: hollow-core fiber.

So what exactly is hollow-core fiber? Unlike traditional optical fiber, which transmits photons in waves down a solid inner core of very high purity materials such as silica or germania, hollow-core fiber is exactly what it says on the box: an optical fiber cable with a hollow core that transmits the light waves through a gas or a vacuum instead. The hollow core is surrounded by antiresonant, glass-based hollow fibers that reflect light back into the core, effectively trapping the signal in the optical mode at the very centre of the cable.

Hollow-core is not a new technology: the idea has been around for quite some time. However, until recently it was not known if it would ever be a viable alternative to solid fiber. In September 2019, the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) based at the University of Southampton demonstrated the longest ever hollow-core fiber transmission at the 2019 European Conference on Optical Communication in Dublin, demonstrating a loss of only 0.65 dB/km over 340 km.

Capacity, loss and damage

Loss, otherwise known as attenuation, are commonly caused by radiation, absorption, and scattering. By limiting such losses as much as possible, the fiber allows light and the information it carries to travel great distances from the original source.

Conventional optical fiber can be susceptible to optical damage and dispersion and ultimately, as the march of technological innovation pushes ever onwards, is limited by its finite spectral transparency and nonlinear impairments. The underlying principle of hollow-core fiber’s advantage over traditional silica is that light travels faster through air than solids or liquids.

Potentially, hollow-core fiber could allow faster data transmission than its solid counterpart, with lower losses and a higher capacity for data transmission. But it’s not likely to totally supplant traditional optical fiber in terrestrial telecommunications systems.

The applications for this technology extend far beyond communications; for instance, it could lead to new manufacturing technologies by using intense laser light transmitted through hollow-core fibers, and could also be used for medical purposes such as imaging technology or the treatment of diseased tissues using laser light.

The reality of it all

It may be quite some time until hollow-core fiber starts becoming viable, and until then, we won’t really know what the technology is capable of. Until then, Bulgin offers a range of rugged fiber connectors to keep optical fiber that is used in harsh environments safe from the dangers of contamination.

The 4000 series provides an industry-standard LC interface as specified by IEC 61754-20. To save time and simplify installation, the connectors are available as pre-terminated options, already connected to a suitable cable of up to 450m in length.

Product code: PXF4050

Like the 4000 Series Fiber, the 6000 Series Fiber duplex connector is suited for outdoor broadcasting, FTTx, server room engineering, civil engineering and aviation & rail applications.

The 6000 series harsh environment optical connector is designed for years of service in areas where unprotected physical contact fiber, isn’t an option. Featuring a secure, yet easy to operate 30 degree locking mechanism, this series has field proven IP68 and IP69K performance

In comparison to the simplex 4000 Series Fiber connector, the additional glass fiber on this duplex cable can double the data transmission capabilities where required.

Product code: PXF6050

Visit Bulgin’s Connectivity Community  for expert advice and for more information on optical fiber connectors please visit the Bulgin website.