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Communications of the ACM


Optical Fibers Getting Full

Optical Fibers Getting Full, illustration

Credit: Jamani Caillet / EPFL

Since optical fibers were first deployed for communications in the 1970s, the number of bits per second a single fiber can carry has grown by the astonishing factor of 10 million, permitting an enormous increase in total data traffic, including cellular phone calls that spend most of their lives as bits traveling in fiber.

The exponential growth resembles Moore's Law for integrated circuits. Technology journalist Jeff Hecht has proposed calling the fiber version "Keck's Law" after Corning researcher Donald Keck, whose improvements in glass transparency in the early 1970s helped launch the revolution. The simplicity of these "laws," however, obscures the repeated waves of innovation that sustain them, and both laws seem to be approaching fundamental limits.


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