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Internet Access and Local Area Networks

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Fiber optics are more commonly being implemented not just as deliverers of wide area delivery of connections, but also in local area applications. As glass and fiber products for data become cheaper and more abundant, fiber optic technology is also being used in smaller areas, such as a local area network. Fiber optics with increasing abundance can afford more efficiency in a time where data transfers are increasing, with the number of people and institutions requiring higher speed.

This paper will discuss the technologies of Internet access and local area networks and will look at how fiber optic technology is applied in this area. The history of the Internet and the local area network will be covered briefly. Also covered will be the history of fiber optics and their place in the Internet in terms of access technology and use. A coverage of fiber optic technologies applicable to the local area network will be made.

The Internet

The Internet started as a project of the former Advanced Project Research Agency (now called Defense Advanced Project Research Agency or DARPA) to create a network that linked computers across great distances (Hecht 2005 56). The result was the ARPANET, which launched in 1969, linking two computers across a large distance and allowed them to share data. The invention of packet switching later allowed some companies to collaborate on a data transmission project. In the 1980s, the network of DARPA was opened to civilian sources and networks like Usenet and Compuserve connected to it. In 1991, Tim Berners Lee publicized his World Wide Web project. When it was released, many other networks connected to it and it soon became the Internet as we know it today.

When the Internet first launched, most of the data was transferred using analog cables, often involving the use of copper wire. The same technologies used in the first types of communication, such as telephones, were also used in the transmission of the Internet. However increasing demand for speed and amount of data required new technologies and solutions (The Basics of Fiber Optic Cable 2010).

Fiber Optic Applications

The technology of optical fiber offers faster data transfer and better communication fidelity than older technologies. Optical fiber was first created by Corning Glass Works (today Corning Incorporated) in the early 1970s, meant to meet needs and proposals for a faster data transfer medium. Corning was able to achieve the needed attenuation of 20 decibels per kilometer required for signal fidelity (Hecht 67). The cable works by converting the signals to light instead of electricity, and this passes through the medium at a greater rate.

Optical fiber was at first rarely applied as it was new and expensive. But as new products were developed, the applications and distribution of optical fibers expanded and became more common in application. It even came to the point where optical fiber connections can be offered to individual subscribers, although this is very expensive and not actually cost-effective (Fiber Optic Internet). It can be seen as a unique invention as it was made for the purpose for data transfer. While there are other data transfer technologies, optical fiber remains unique as a solid medium, an alternative to copper and other conductive solids.

Benefits of Optical Fibers

Optical fiber has been promoted mostly because of its high speed and capacity. Compared to metal-based data transfer media, optical fiber has high bandwidth. It is able to pack more data in a single packet than a copper wire (Understanding Fiber Optics and Local Area Networks 2006). This also means that data loss is less over greater distances, thus allowing for greater data fidelity. However, there are other reasons aside from this primary advantage that optical fiber can offer.

Another obvious advantage of glass-based cable is that it does not rust or corrode like metal cables. It is also very strong, and manufacturer Corning Inc. says that optical fiber can be stronger than, owing to the company's history of having developed fiberglass (Understanding Fiber Optics and Local Area Networks). Another advantage is that optic fiber can be thin and still strong, and yet carry more bandwidth. Thus, it can be lighter than metal-based cable. In summary, optical fiber carries more "bang for the buck" than older metal cables. Another advantage is that optical fibers have greater resistance to interference than metal cables, and could preserve their signal fidelity more easily.

The disadvantages of optical fibers deal mainly with the price and availability of the technology. But as more optical fiber is produced, prices become lower and the technology becomes more available to more consumers. Given the advantages above, optical fiber would be more cost-effective (VDV Works 2002). Another disadvantage is that fiber, being stronger and more rigid, may be harder to cut and bend, and thus may have more difficulty in handling. However, many of



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