The future of fiber optics: transforming data infrastructure with multi-function fiber optics

By Jason Fant, Global Fiber Optics Market Manager, Zeus

Walking around the ECOC exhibition in Dublin last week, I heard several exciting ideas regarding the future of fiber optics. None intrigued me more, however, than Verizon’s Market Focus presentation, which made a novel suggestion: that existing fiber infrastructure could be adapted to provide environmental monitoring and feedback on transport conditions.

It’s an interesting concept and one that could see existing telecom fiber networks, currently only used for data transmission, working harder than ever before. Deployed fiber networks could, in fact, be employed to detect variables such as vehicle speed, density and road conditions, potentially increasing the value of any fiber assets significantly.

And this got me thinking – beyond retrofitting current infrastructure to act as a measurement tool, couldn’t we design future fiber deployments to be even more versatile; to serve multiple functions simultaneously?

With simple modification, current designs could be engineered to ensure data transmission functions as needed, but with the additional ability to isolate strain or temperature, vibration, pressure, and displacement readings. Such data could provide valuable insights into our environment.

Imagine, for instance, using the current infrastructure to organize emergency services after an earthquake; to track the path and speed of an active fire; or monitor erosion under major roads.

As a supplier of both legacy telecom products and emerging optical fiber sensing solutions, it’s certainly something Zeus is keen to explore. Already, our research into innovative solutions for optical fiber sensor deployment is focused on linking current legacy telecom product with the latest fiber sensing technology, meaning we’re well on the way to supporting any future infrastructure changes.

Interestingly, it wasn’t just telecom networks where optical fiber sensing was the focus of attention at this year’s ECOC. A multitude of other sectors are also embracing this technology and the possibilities it brings.

When Zeus first started exhibiting at ECOC, the focus for delegates was on products such as low friction liners in fan outs, cables, and connectors, or our solutions for network automation. Now, however, that trend has shifted. This year, for the first time, the majority of our conversations focused on optical fiber sensing products.

Interest came from all quarters, including large aerospace companies, energy sensing providers, and medical device manufacturers. Truth be told, it both surprised and pleased me to have medical devices brought to our booth to discuss integrating sensing technology. Sure, it seems far removed from traditional remit of fiber optic communications, but in my opinion, this made ECOC feel more diverse and energized than ever before.

Jason Fant, Global Fiber Optics Market Manager, Zeus
Author: Jason Fant, Global Fiber Optics Market Manager, Zeus

Jason is recognized within the industry and amongst peers, as a specialist on polymer protection for fiber optics. He is regularly called upon by R&D teams and innovation centers worldwide to apply his expertise in polymer solutions to aid the development of new fiber optic powered processes, products and applications.