The Fiber Optic Connection: Communication Technology Is Changing at the Speed of Light, and Career and Technical Education Is Helping to Provide the Training to Keep Our Workplaces and Homes Connected

Article excerpt

Optical communications have come a long way since the optical telegraph invented by French engineer Claude Chappe in the late 18th century, and are exceedingly more complex than the system of flashing lights used by ships as a means of optical communications. Today, fiber optics--those long strands of very pure glass that are only approximately the diameter of a human hair--are part of our highly technological telecommunications system.

So what is next in the world of fiber optics? According to an announcement made in May by three of the nation's largest telecommunications service providers (Verizon, BellSouth and SBC Communications Inc.), it may be fiber to the premises (FTTP), advanced fiber optic systems that can connect homes and businesses to telecommunications networks. The three companies have adopted a set of common technical requirements based on established industry standards and specifications for FTTP, which they say paves the way for "deployment of next-generation broadband networks that offer nearly limitless bandwidth for home and business Internet, voice and innovative new video services."

With FTTP as a platform, photo sharing, PC backup, telecommuting, video conferencing, interactive gaming and premises surveillance could be delivered to our homes on demand and in high definition. As the technology evolves and its use expands, a well-trained workforce will be needed to implement it.

Ken Lowenstein, director of marketing for C-Tech, a developer and manufacturer of turnkey certified communications networking programs, sees this as a tremendous opportunity for students trained with his company's program. C-Tech's fiber optics program is an industry-recognized, manufacturer non-specific certification program.

"With Fiber to the Desktop on the rise and the recent announcement that three of the nation's largest telecommunications service providers have adopted a set of standards for Fiber to the Premise, or Fiber to the Home, the demand for skilled technicians will once again be on the rise," notes Lowenstein.

William F. McGurgan, director of curriculum and programs for C-Tech says, "It's exciting working with our industry partners as Fiber to the Premise/Home is becoming a reality. By sharing this knowledge base along with industry-desired skill sets with our students across the country, we are confident that they will be prepared for the next communications revolution."

First Careers and New Careers

At Berlin, Pennsylvania's SUN Area Career and Technology Center, students come from the Lewisburg, Midd West, Mifflinburg, Selinsgrove and Shikellamy school districts of central Pennsylvania. The Electrical Systems Technology program at SUN Tech includes training in fiber optics, and C-Tech Certified Instructor Bill Shipe teaches the subject to both high school students and adults--in the same class. His current class has three adults in addition to the high school students, and those adults range in age from 20 to 51 years old.

"Some of them are here for retraining because they lost their jobs to foreign competition and got retraining grants from the government," says Shipe of these adult students. "Some pay their own way just to learn skills to better themselves."

The high school students in the Electrical Systems Technology program are preparing for either entry-level positions as technicians in fields such as fiber optics, laser optics, satellite communications, cellular communications and wireless communications--or for transition into postsecondary education. Some of the students have gone into the military where they specialized in telecommunications, especially fiber optics.

Shipe notes that telecommunications is a strong element of the SUN Tech program, which includes both copper and fiber optics.

"We use the C-Tech curriculum because it's well structured," he explains, "and we augment with other materials that our local employers use. …