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The Shortage of Optical Fibre is over

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We discuss the following topics in this blog:

  1. How are Telcos Redefining Connectivity?
  2. The Rise of Optical Fibre
  3. How will Fiberisation Aid Arrival of 5G?
  4. STL’s Contribution

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

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

How are Telcos Redefining Connectivity?

The world is at the cusp of the next techno-industrial revolution – one that will be powered by unparalleled communication technology. But in the ever oscillating pendulum of change, perpetuated by consumer demand on one end and technological breakthroughs on the other, the industry that finds equilibrium can loft itself into the next era. Today, that fine balance rests in the power of telecommunications: industries that will have digital communication technology-enabled solutions, i.e., connected solutions, will be the pioneers of change in every sphere of our lives.

The Rise of Optical Fibre

Over the last 2 years, in the race to build networks of the future to get everything connected, the world experienced some speed bumps. The latter part of this decade saw the highest growth in the proliferation of Optical Fibre networks, the propagators of unlimited bandwidth at unimaginable speeds, followed by a sustained period of stagnation.

In 2018, as global Optical Fibre consumption crossed 500 Million Kilometres[1] (measured by individual strands of optical fibre), which is more than 3 Astronomical Units, the only factor holding back even more production was a shortage of Optical Glass Preform. This material, important in the production of Optical Fibre, can only be manufactured by a dozen or so companies around the world.

How will Fiberisation Aid Arrival of 5G?

Fortunately for us, in late-2019, on the back of immense investment made by the industry, the shortage of Preform was over. Sterlite Technologies Limited (STL) constructed one of the world’s largest Preform manufacturing facilities. Soon after, STL’s facility was deemed to be one of the largest “clean-room” manufacturing facilities in India. Today, there is enough capacity available for the world’s operators and Hyperscale/Cloud companies to consume well over 600 Million Kilometres of fibre and unleash the potential of next-era 5G networks.

With global consensus that the time for 5G has come, and the constraints on optical fibre have been lifted, the world’s leading telecom operators, network companies, and data center companies have the opportunity to lay the backbone of 5G network. Industry leaders like Verizon, China Mobile, and Orange have been quietly building networks for years, while total disruptors like Reliance Jio have been exploring new ways of funding their networks’ expansion.

STL’s Contribution

It is amply clear that there is a networks arms race, and those with the route miles and deep fibre in their arsenal will be the clear winners. To top it off, vertically integrated manufacturers like STL are producing new solutions meant to transform the next-gen networks.

(STL is one of the few companies globally that has the technology and manufacturing capacity to produce Optical Glass, Optical Fibre, and Optical Fibre Cable. Moreover, its portfolio of passive connectivity solutions, and its track record in designing and deploying entire networks, gives it the ability to create unique value for its telecom clients).

Just like the ever-savvy retail consumer of the digital era, today’s Enterprise customer also expects the highest quality, the fastest service, and a full-stack of solutions. The age of dependability and durability has been augmented by the need for dexterity. Fiberized networks, powering next-gen RAN, and managed by 5G protocols, will serve as the bedrock of every Enterprise process (from remote-ordering of a coffee to ultra-high frequency trading, and even live monitoring of utilities and reactors).

The operators whose products will be the backbone of 5G network, will dominate the industrial revolution. In 2019, these leaders were challenged by a lack of Optical Preform production. But just as we cross the last speed-bump, we know the shortage is over, and it’s the time to build!

[1] Optical Fibre and Cable Monitor, CRU, November 2019


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 Cable?

An optical fibre cable is a cable type that has a few to hundreds of optical fibres bundled together within a protective plastic coating. They help carry digital data in the form of light pulses across large distances at faster speeds. For this, they need to be installed or deployed either underground or aerially. Standalone fibres cannot be buried or hanged so fibres are bunched together as cables for the transmission of data.

This is done to protect the fibre from stress, moisture, temperature changes and other externalities. There are three main components of a optical fibre cable, core (It carries the light and is made of pure silicon dioxide (SiO2) with dopants such as germania, phosphorous pentoxide, or alumina to raise the refractive index; Typical glass cores range from as small as 3.7um up to 200um), Cladding (Cladding surrounds the core and has a lower refractive index than the core, it is also made from the same material as the core; 1% refractive index difference is maintained between the core and cladding; Two commonly used diameters are 125µm and 140µm) and Coating (Protective layer that absorbs shocks, physical damage and moisture; The outside diameter of the coating is typically either 250µm or 500µm; Commonly used material for coatings are acrylate,Silicone, carbon, and polyimide).

An optical fibre cable is made up of the following components: Optical fibres – ranging from one to many. Buffer tubes (with different settings), for protection and cushioning of the fibre. Water protection in the tubes – wet or dry. A central strength member (CSM) is the backbone of all cables. Armoured tapes for stranding to bunch the buffer tubes and strength members together. Sheathing or final covering to provide further protection.

The five main reasons that make this technology innovation disruptive are fast communication speed, infinite bandwidth & capacity, low interference, high tensile strength and secure communication. The major usescases of optical fibre cables include intenet connectivity, computer networking, surgery & dentistry, automotive industry, telephony, lighting & decorations, mechanical inspections, cable television, military applications and space.

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