Optical polymer fibres bring broadband multimedia into the home

Microelectronics International

ISSN: 1356-5362

Article publication date: 1 December 2004




(2004), "Optical polymer fibres bring broadband multimedia into the home", Microelectronics International, Vol. 21 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/mi.2004.21821cab.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Optical polymer fibres bring broadband multimedia into the home

Optical polymer fibres bring broadband multimedia into the home

Keywords: Optics, Polymers, Telecommunication

Fibreglass cables made from silica glass have already been in use for several years in telecommunications and data networks as the broadband successor to classic copper cables. This technology has been adopted for multimedia cabling for buildings and plants, such as business parks. A recent example is the recently inaugurated Formula 1 track in Bahrain, where 40 video cameras, 45 signal lamps, 820 loudspeakers and 800 telephone extensions had to be networked with a management system. However, a more cost-effective alternative has now presented itself for broadband applications in the commercial and private sectors: plastic optical fibre or polymer optical fibre (POF).

This fibre consists of a transparent plastic, e.g. plexiglass, and is more flexible and much easier to handle than fibreglass. The International FiberComm Conference, which took place on 12-14 May 2004 in Munich, demonstrated how POFs can be used to network residential houses and hospitals and how the technologies and architectures can be applied.

The entry of this digital standard into private households has increased the need for high- performance, but cost-effective home networks as extensions to cable networks and wireless LAN. The so-called "Fibre in the Home'' (FITH) networks have been developed to network all electronic devices in the home-PCs, televisions, games consoles, ovens, air conditioning units and other domestic appliances. They are based on plastic optical fibres, transmitting up to 3 gigabits per second over short distances and up to 400 Mbit per second over a distance of 100 m. In areas requiring data transmission rates and a range similar to that of fibreglass, such as the networking of high-rise buildings or large building complexes, the so-called "Graded Index POFs'' (GI POFs) can be used.

Whereas one copper cable can only achieve a data transmission rate of 1 gigabit per second over about 50 m, GI POFs can achieve the same rate over several hundred metres and can be laid together with electricity power cables in a channel, given their insensitivity to electromagnetic disturbance. This makes POF suitable for cable television (CATV) and other interactive multimedia services of the future high-speed access to the Internet, telephony via the Internet (Volce-over IP), digital TV and pay-per-view television (pay-per-channel) are all possible with reverse-channel capable optical networks within a single cable. With around 22 million households connected to cable TV. Germany is the second largest cable market in the world after the USA – and thus, a highly attractive market for network providers from all over the world.

However, GI POFs are not just suitable for cabling in residential houses and offices; it was only in December last year that the Sakakibara Hospital in Japan was inaugurated. All computers for the doctors, nurses and technicians are linked together via an optical network, as well as the PCs at patient bedsides. This case also demonstrated the advantages of POFs extensive range, cost-effective, flexible and robust installation, tap-proof and insensitive to electromagnetic disturbance.

The uses of POF were just one aspect of the FiberComm Conference 2004, which will provide a comprehensive overview of optical information and communication technology. Topics discussed included the commercial and technological development of optical components and networks, as well as future-orientated network architectures such as Ethernets. Participants in the international conference included decision-makers from management sectors and technical specialists from the manufacturing and user sectors, including network operators, manufacturers of optical components, network and system designers, as well as large-scale enterprises and investors.

Further information on the programme and speakers at the FiberComm Conference are available at: www.fibercomm.de

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