Fibre for Pandemic Connectivity and Beyond

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We discuss the following topics in this blog:

  1. Internet usage in unusual times.
  2. Fibre to the rescue
  3. Steps telecom ministries to prepare for a better fibre footprint.

In addition to these topics, we shall also be answering the following FAQs:

  1. What is WiFi?
  2. What is an Optical Fibre Cable?

Overview

“We may speak different tongues and adhere to different creeds, but we are made of the same stuff. We are one human race. Fight. Unite. Ignite. And let our singular resolve be: never again.” Had Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO, said these words in any usual G20 gathering, they would have been met with thunderous applause ringing ear to ear. This time, though, it was met with soft claps followed by deafening silence. These words were spoken at the Extraordinary Virtual G20 Leaders’ Summit, which was convened virtually, with leaders from the world’s major economies looking to find ways to dismantle challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not the Usual Times

The two-hour summit – or what can be called a high-powered conference call – gave us a perspective on how things have changed. Instead of being the centres of attraction at high-level summitry, global leaders have now been confined to their homes and are finding virtual ways to connect. The fate for commoners is not any different. More people are working from their homes and glued to their computers than ever before. Social media platforms are buzzing of images of conference collages with smiling people exuding courage from tiny windows. If socialising is an art, it just got beheld on a digital canvas, and ubiquitous and uninterrupted Internet connectivity seems to be the artist behind it.

How to Manage the Rise in Demand of Bandwidth?

Internet is perhaps the thread professional lives of millions of people are hanging on right now. With technology being relied upon for work, learning, recreation and what not, Internet usage is up 50% in some parts of the world. In a recent article, Vodafone claimed that it has “already seen data traffic increase by 50% in some markets.”

On the other hand, the future at this time has become more unpredictable than ever before. If the global workforce working remotely records significantly higher productivity during this time, remote working may become a preferable norm. If all these things become the new normal, the bandwidth demands of tomorrow will only be going to be more daunting.

Is Fibre the Solution We Need?

Fibre is perhaps the most scalable, secure and cost-effective option to transmit large volumes of data, uninterrupted for years. The importance of a solid fibre footprint in an economy is rated far higher in trying times like these when businesses need to keep employees safe as well as maintain the connect with customers.

Countries with recent network upgrades and expansions are not only holding up as bandwidth demand increased, but are also in a good position to prepare themselves to leverage emerging technologies. The economies who are still lagging behind can take a note of this and invest in expanding their fibre footprint once situation becomes less daunting.

Below are the few steps telecom and information technology ministries can take during downtime to prepare for a better fibre footprint:

  • Strategize comprehensively for fibre footprint expansion and make the government an active investor in it. The role of the private sector, on the other hand, can be more focussed toward leveraging the fibre for developing and delivering innovative applications for various sectors.
  • Create a high powered governing/advisory groups that can set the direction for roll-out. Relevant ministries, provinces and leading industry CEOs can advise to support the expansion and remove bottlenecks
  • Address regulatory issues and ironing a few wrinkles to make it easier for telcos to aggressively roll-out fibre networks once situation improves.

FAQs

What is WiFi?

Put simply, WiFi is a technology that uses radio waves to create a wireless network through which devices like mobile phones, computers, printers, etc., connect to the internet. A wireless router is needed to establish a WiFi hotspot that people in its vicinity may use to access internet services. You’re sure to have encountered such a WiFi hotspot in houses, offices, restaurants, etc.

To get a little more technical, WiFi works by enabling a Wireless Local Area Network or WLAN that allows devices connected to it to exchange signals with the internet via a router. The frequencies of these signals are either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz bandwidths. These frequencies are much higher than those transmitted to or by radios, mobile phones, and televisions since WiFi signals need to carry significantly higher amounts of data. The networking standards are variants of 802.11, of which there are several (802.11a, 802.11b, 801.11g, etc.).

What is an Optical Fibre?

Optical fiber is a thin, flexible, strand-like material made of pure glass, through which light signals or data can be sent over longer distances at faster speeds. A strand of fiber is 1/10th the thickness of human hair. Optical fiber has three layers. The core is the innermost area through which the light travels. Cladding is another layer of glass wrapped on the outside of the core. Its job is to keep the light signal inside the core. Coatings are multi-layers of plastics applied to preserve strength, absorb shock and protect it from environmental changes.

Light in OF travels through the core by constantly bouncing off from the cladding. This process happens because the cladding doesn’t absorb any light from the core and bounces off all the light back to the core. We might expect a beam of light to leak out of edges, but when light hits another glass-like clad with a lower refractive index than the core, it acts as a mirror, and the light gets reflected back to the core leading to Total Internal Reflection. Total internal reflection is critical for the functioning of the optical fiber.

For TIR to occur, the following conditions need to be met:
1. The light should be traveling from a denser (High RI) medium to a rarer (Low RI) medium. Hence the refractive index of the core is kept higher than the clad.
2. AOI should be greater than the critical angle.

There are two types of optical fibers: Single-mode and Multi-mode. In SM fiber, only one mode or ray of light is allowed to pass through the core. Hence core is smaller in diameter, around 9 microns. MM fiber allows more than one mode or ray of light to pass through it. It has a wider core diameter of 62.5 microns. SM fiber is less expensive, has a low loss of strength or attenuation, and can be used for longer distances. Single-mode is the most widely used fiber type.

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