Corning claims optical fiber breakthrough

Corning researchers say their newest breakthrough - optical fiber that can bend without significant signal loss - will greatly accelerate the expansion of fiber optic connections directly into homes, especially those of the nation's 25 million high-rise dwellers.

From an Associated Press report:

The world's largest maker of optical fiber said Monday it has developed a new fiber that is at least 100 times more bendable than standard fiber, clearing a major hurdle for telecommunications carriers drawing fiber into homes.

"This is a game-changing technology for telecommunications applications," said Corning's president, Peter Volanakis. "We have developed an optical fiber cable that is as rugged as copper cable but with all of the bandwidth benefits of fiber."

Verizon has been working with Corning for years to conquer this difficulty as part of the former's FiOS push. Both the problem and Corning's solution are spelled out in this Fortune story:

This intolerance for bending can make fiber optics a nightmare to install in someone's home. Snaking the wiring along the floorboards is out of the question - just one tight turn around the bookcase, and the signal is kaput. So Verizon's installers have been forced to come up with alternate routes, such as drilling holes in walls to get the cabling from one room to another. The process is time-consuming, expensive, and potentially destructive. The problem is particularly acute in apartment buildings - and there are a lot of those in Verizon's East Coast territory - which are full of conduits, shafts, and corners that must be navigated in order to hook up each customer. (In most single-family homes Verizon just needs to connect the fiber to a special box on the outside of the customer's house.) Fun fact: To get a fiber connection to a typical basement apartment, installers encounter an average of 12 right-angle turns.

Those hoping to learn from press coverage exactly how Corning accomplishes this feat are likely to be disappointed. From the Fortune article:

Corning's researchers figured out a way to keep the light going as it turns corners - lots and lots of corners. We can't go too deep into the technical details - the company exhibits CIA-levels of paranoia about its inventions. But essentially Corning's technology infuses the cladding that surrounds the fiber's narrow core with microscopic guardrails called nanostructures. They help keep the light from seeping out of the fiber, even when it is wound around a pencil - treatment that normally would render it completely useless.

Sounds amazing, although the news might not be welcomed by all. Just last month, Siemens was touting the wonders of its new polymer optical-fiber cable, which the company said was capable of transmitting data at about 1Gbps, in part because polymer could bend in ways fiber cannot handle.

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