How Fiber Optics Works

Fiber optics, or optical fibers are long, thin strands of pure glass (some may be plastic), roughly the diameter of human hair. These optical fibers are bundled together to create optical cables. Fiber optic cables can transmit light pulses over long distances. Telephone and cable TV, internet, medical imaging, and many other systems and applications use fiber optics.

Optical Fiber

First, three components make up optical fiber:

  • Core – Thin glass center where the light travels
  • Cladding – Reflective material surrounding the core that reflects the light back inward
  • Buffer coating – Protective coating, made of plastic, that protects the fiber from moisture and other damage

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) produce light in fiber-optic cable. Light travels through the core, constantly bouncing off the cladding. Since the cladding does not absorb any light, the light can travel a great distance.

Fiber-Optic Relay System

To make the best use of fiber optics, we have the fiber-optic communication system. The complete fiber-optic relay system consists of the following:

  • Transmitter – Produces and encodes the light pulses
  • Optical fiber – Transports the light over distance
  • Optical regenerator – Boost signal over long distances
  • Optical receiver – Receives and decodes the light signals


To begin generating a signal, the transmitter pulses the LED or laser on and off in the correct sequence. The transmitter is located near the optical fiber. It may even have a lens to focus the light directly into the fiber.

Optical Regenerator

As described above, the cladding does not absorb light. Impurities in the glass, however, cause the signal to degrade over long distances. In such cases, one or more optical regenerators may be spliced into the system to boost the degraded light signals. The optical regenerator consists of optical fibers with a special coating, which takes the degraded signal and emits a new, stronger signal with the same characteristics as the weak signal.

Optical Receiver

Finally, the optical receiver receives the incoming light pulses, decodes them and sends the decoded signal to the user’s computer, television, telephone, or any other end use device of the fiber signal. A photocell or photodiode within the optical receiver detects the incoming light.


Harness the Power of Fiber Optics

Fiber optics have revolutionized communications. Fiber offers much greater bandwidth, and is thinner, more flexible, and far less expensive then copper wire systems. The quality of the fiber optics and the components in the fiber optic relay system, however, are critical.

We look forward to helping you with your fiber optic systems. Please contact us if you have questions!


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