CHAPTER 8
Communicating with light

8.1 Fibre optics

Without doubt, the introduction of light into the world telecommunications network represents one of the most important ‘revolutions’ in modern society, and semiconductors have played a vital role in its success. This chapter is therefore concerned to describe that contribution, but first we shall try to put the semiconductor role in context by providing a brief history of the fibre-optic revolution, itself. This is made all the easier by the availability of an admirably written overview in the book ‘City of Light’ by Jeff Hecht (1999) which is strongly recommended to anyone wishing to explore the subject in greater detail.

The fibre-optic revolution occurred in the surprisingly short period 1970–90, during which fibre in one form or another took over the role of making connection between telephone switching stations, all the way from local city networks to transoceanic long haul cables. Given the generally conservative nature of the world’s telecom business, this is a remarkably short timescale for such a major transformation. Copper wire had provided the mainstay of remote information exchange technology from the development of the electric telegraph in the 1840s, together with the first transatlantic telegraph cable in 1866 (ably assisted by the physicist William Thomson—later Lord Kelvin), through that of the telephone in the 1880s, until the advent of radio in the years after the First World War began to offer serious rivalry. Even with the development of microwave links after the Second World War, copper remained the medium for all local connections and, what is more, for the first transatlantic telephone cable TAT-1 (which used coax) in 1956 (this, by the way, depended on valve amplifiers at each of 51 repeaters—the first transistorized cable did not appear until 1968!). In 1963 the Telstar communication satellite was launched to herald the era of long distance satellite links which threatened to put transoceanic cables out of business but the planning of new land-based connections was still based on copper, albeit, perhaps, in the form of millimetre waveguide for large volume traffic. That optical fibres should transform this scenario almost completely in the space of just a few years was nothing short of remarkable. Today, we take it as read that local, medium haul and long haul connections should be dominated by fibre,

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The Story of Semiconductors
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents xi
  • Chapter 1 - Perspectives 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Cat's Whiskers 19
  • Chapter 3 - Minority Rule 47
  • Chapter 4 - Silicon, Silicon, and Yet More Silicon 93
  • Chapter 5 - The Compound Challenge 149
  • Chapter 6 - Low Dimensional Structures 213
  • Chapter 7 - Let There Be Light 277
  • Chapter 8 - Communicating with Light 331
  • Chapter 9 - Semiconductors in the Infrared 385
  • Chapter 10 - Polycrystalline and Amorphous Semiconductors 447
  • Index 503
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