What do 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), Work From Home (WFH), and Big Data have in common? All these advancing technologies are reliant on fast data collection and transfer. Applications such as e-commerce, internet search, and multimedia all have a seemingly endless appetite for more bandwidth and lower latency. Optical fiber, with an endless capacity for bandwidth, is becoming the foundation of telecommunications networks worldwide.
In fact, multiple research organizations such as Motor Intelligence, Businesswire, PRNewswire, and others pegged the optical fiber market at around US$5 Billion in 2020 and steadily growing at about a 10% CAGR through 2028. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) predicts that more than half the global population is connected to the internet. As the foundational telecommunications networks rapidly migrate to fiber in order to meet bandwidth and latency demands, it is logical that enterprise, government, financial, medical, and education networks will closely follow suit.
Fiber Networks in the USA
With optical fiber becoming the standard transmission medium for telecommunications services, it is logical that the largest telecommunications companies own the largest optical fiber networks. AT&T leads the pack with Verizon in second place and investing heavily in new lines. Together, AT&T and Verizon own over 2.2 million miles of fiber in the United States. CenturyLink, Charter Communications and Frontier Communications round out the top five according to a report from S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Telecom and internet carriers are providing new optical networks and aggressively expanding existing optical networks. They are selling access to businesses and consumers at greater speeds, more reliability, and lower latency than previously possible. Many businesses are transitioning to optical fibers in their Local Area Networks (LAN) and Metropolitan Area Networks (MAN) to match the Wide Area Network (WAN) network characteristics being offered by the carrier.
Transitioning Private Networks
As private networks transition from copper to optical, they must re-evaluate many processes and tools currently deployed. Monitoring and security tools, for example, must be upgraded from electrical connections to optical connections. Bandwidth advancements in switching and transmission of optical signals must also be matched by the processing power of new tools to manage, monitor, and secure new networks.
Why is Fiber Growing?
The growth in optical networking is partly due to new networks and partly to expansion aimed at meeting the bandwidth and application needs of the internet society. However, much of the growth in the optical fiber market is the rapid transition from copper media. According to cables.com, there are many advantages of using optical cables over existing copper infrastructure.
Speed - Sending signals via light versus electrical pulses is faster. Optical signals can travel through glass strands at roughly 70% of the speed of light.
Less Noise - Optical fiber is immune to electrical interference causing noise and cross-talk that is commonly found with copper media.
Bandwidth - Fiber cables can carry much greater bandwidth than copper media. Speeds of 40Gbps to 100Gbps are common in optical deployments.
Distance - Optical signals can carry up to 50 kilometers (31 Miles) without repeaters. That is compared to copper which needs to be amplified every 5 miles or so.
Size and weight - Glass fiber strands are lighter and thinner simplifying deployment.
Security - Fiber cables must be cut and tapped in order to steal data. Of course, it is impossible to cut an optical cable surreptitiously.
New Fiber Monitoring Tools for High Bandwidth Optical Networks
As organizations adapt to new fiber optic switches and links, security, and monitoring tools must also adapt from copper interfaces to fiber-optic interfaces. The need for constant network monitoring and protection does not go away as the electrical to optical transition is made.
Passive optical TAPs have been available for some time allowing simple fiber connections to monitoring and security tools at speeds of 100Mbps to 10Gbps. However, the demand for bandwidth in the 40Gbps to 100Gbps requires multiple optical cables.