Fiber optics forms the pivotal telecommunications technology of the contemporary global economy, offering greater speed and security than other modes. This chapter reviews the historical development of this communications technique. It then views its rapid growth within the context of contemporary globalization. Fiber’s role in contemporary urban restructuring is noted. The chapter then turns to the spatial distribution of the world’s fiber lines, noting major transatlantic and transpacific markets and newer systems. The enormous construction boom of the 1990s and early 2000s, however, led to severe overcapacity, with significant economic fallout.
A Brief Historical Overview Of Fiber Optics
Fiber optics are long, thin, flexible, highly transparent rods of quartz glass (or less commonly, plastic) about the thickness of a human hair that can transmit light signals through a process of internal reflection, which retains light in the core and transforms the cable into a waveguide (Agrawal 2002; Freeman 2002; Crisp and Elliot 2005). They can transmit voice, video, or data traffic at the speed of light (299,792 km/sec.); because light oscillates much more rapidly than other wavelengths (200 trillion times per second in fiber cables v. two billion per second in a cellular phone), such lines can carry much more information than other types of telecommunications. Modern fiber cables contain up to 1,000 fibers each and are ideal for high-capacity, point-to-point transmissions. Moreover, fiber cables do not corrode or conduct electricity, which renders them immune to electromagnetic disturbances such as thunderstorms.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Overcapacity: Excess supply of a good, in this case fiber optic cable transmission ability, relative to demand, resulting in unused or underused portions.
Repeaters: Devices designed to capture, amplify, and transmit information along fiber optic cables to minimize signal attenuation.
Globalization: Increase in the volume, scope, and rapidity of international transactions.
Dark Fiber: Fiber optic cables that are not in use, resulting from either planned or unplanned overcapacity.
Internet: Worldwide interconnected system of computer networks designed to transmit information of various types, including data, voice, and video.
Deregulation: Decrease or removal of government controls in an industry, including prices, ownership, and market penetration.
Fiber Optics: Glass wires that transmit information via rapidly oscillation pulses of light over long distances.