Fibre networks are the future for digital communication. But what are the pros and cons of fibre and what can we use them for? You will find a brief survey on this page.
What are the pros of fibre?
A fibre network uses light pulses (see also “What is optical fibre”) transmitted through a fine glass fibre. As for copper and cable networks, these use electrical signals and a copper wire. This gives a fibre network a number of advantages:
- Very high bandwidth: Fibre optics have a large bandwidth, up to tens of gigabytes per second. This allows for very high bitrates for Internet use, with multiple users at the same time. This high capacity will ensure that fibre can support future applications as well.
- Long distances: The light signal in the optical fibre is hardly attenuated and can therefore span very long distances.
- Reliable connection: Optical fibre is not very susceptible to interference, for instance caused by weather conditions or electromagnetic influences. This minimises the chance of errors, ensures that the signal is not easily lost and its quality.
- Low latency: The data is transmitted at almost the speed of light resulting in a minimal latency in the transmission of data. This is important for the swift remote control of machines or for applications requiring a quick response.
- Symmetric access possible: Depending on the type of optical fibre installation, fibre optics allow equal upload and download speeds. Higher upload speeds are useful for online meetings, sending videos, operating software from a distance etc.
- Environmentally friendly: it takes less energy to send 1 bit through optical fibre than by means of other technologies.
- Low maintenance costs: for the very reason that they are not very susceptible to interference, fibre networks require less maintenance than other types of networks. The maintenance costs of a fibre network will therefore be relatively low.
What are the cons of fibre?
In addition to the many advantages, there are a few disadvantages as well:
- Complex installation: As optical fibre is so thin, the installation (and the connection of two optical fibres) has to be performed with the utmost care and knowhow. Optical fibre may not be bent too much either or it will break. Bringing the fibre to the end-user is therefore typically done by the operator.
- High deployment costs: For optical fibre, the operator must use special equipment which is more expensive than the equipment needed for other technologies (e.g. lasers creating light pulses). In addition, when deploying fibre, the operator has to build a new network, resulting in high roll-out costs, for instance because of digging that needs to be carried out.
What is fibre used for?
Optical fibre has a wide range of applications. Below you will find a number of examples:
- High broadband connectivity for home use: fibre is brought to the people at home by means of an FTTH network.
- High-quality connectivity for business users and companies: these users often want large bandwidths to connect different sites such as the offices and data centres (e.g. up to 100 Gbps). What’s more, these connections often have to be symmetrical and have low latency (< 1ms).
- Operating and monitoring machines in the industrial sector.
- Backhaul for the mobile network. The mobile networks antennae are connected to the operator's central network through fibre (backhaul). Especially for the roll-out of the 5G network, fibre has the right qualities allowing for a large bandwidth, low latency and symmetry.
- The Internet backbone network connects the nodes of the different data centres allowing Internet worldwide. Fibre allows very long distances to be spanned at a high speed (> 100 Gbps) with a low latency. The different Internet nodes are therefore connected through fibre, among other things by means of submarine cables.
- Technological evolutions such as ‘in the cloud gaming’ or telesurgery, requiring a very low latency and large bandwidth.
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