Optical fiber ‘taking off’ on 5G, IoT and FTTH

03-01-2019 |   |  By Nnamdi Anyadike

The global optical fiber market is growing strongly with one recent study published by Allied Market Research, suggesting a CAGR of 11.6% between 2018 and 2025. This would take the value from $3,477 million to $8,153 million. Chief among the factors underpinning this growth are the: widespread implementation of 5G, from 2020; an increase in the adoption of fiber to the home (FTTH) connectivity; and the emergence of internet of things (IoT). The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) estimates the market for IoT devices generating over $1.7 trillion by 2019.

5G wireless connection can transmit more data while providing a more steady and reliable connection. FTTH, which uses fiber optic technology to enable faster and more effective communication, is the most advanced technology for building the next generation of communication networks. Fiber connections are used by more than 130 million homes. China alone has almost 100 million fiber subscribers and European countries, such as Norway, Lithuania, Denmark, Sweden, and Latvia, are approaching near universal access to fiber. Key companies involved in the sector include: Fujikura Ltd, Corning Incorporated, Sterlite Technologies Ltd, Furukawa Electric Co., Ltd, Sumitomo Electric Industries, Ltd, Nexans S.A and Reflex Photonics, Inc.

An example of the kind of technological developments that are taking place in optical fiber was recently illustrated by research done at Rice University Texas. The research that was published in November 27 by the American Chemical Society showed the deposition of a 2D 10nm-thick indium selenide photodetector with gold electrodes on to an optical fiber. Key to the success of the demonstration was the use of Polydimethylglutarimide (PMGI) as a sacrificial layer to permanently position the sensors onto the curved surface. “We’ve spent quite some time to develop this sacrificial layer,” said Rice materials scientist Jun Lou. According to the university, the technique appears to work for any 2D material, and had been tried with molybdenum diselenide amongst others.

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Rice engineers have developed a method to transfer complete, flexible, two-dimensional circuits from their fabrication platforms to curved and other smooth surfaces. Such circuits are able to couple with near-field electromagnetic waves and offer next-generation sensing for optical fibers and other applications. Illustration by Zehua Jin. Credit : news.rice.edu


Meanwhile, the use of optical fiber in transport will great facilitate communications within that sector. In December, the Swedish government’s Transport Administration, Trafikverket awarded a 65-million-euro contract to Nexans, a global leader in advanced cabling and connectivity solutions, for the supply of optical fiber solutions. The cabling allied with microducts and microduct bundles provided by Emtelle will be used in rail projects as the Swedish government continues to develop FTTX networks throughout the country.

Both Nexans and Emtelle will supply Trafikverket with a complete fiber optic solution, fully compatible with existing rail networks, which also meets the customer’s strict requirements for exceptional blowing performance of fiber cables into the microducts. The optical fiber cable solutions will be manufactured by Nexans Sweden in the Grimsås plant, while microducts and microduct bundles will be provided by Emtelle.

Product delivery to Trafikverket will begin in early 2019 and will be completed by 2029. Colin Kirkpatrick, European Business Development Director at Emtelle said, “The main beauty of our microducts and microduct bundles is that they boost operators’ capacity, with minimal disruption thanks to the reduced installation time, while reducing ongoing operational costs and optimising total cost of ownership.”

Meanwhile, the testing and certification of optical fiber equipment is essential and Fluke Networks is the market leader in fiber optic testing equipment with a wide range of field-tough fiber optic testers to inspect, clean, verify, certify, and troubleshoot fiber optic cable networks. While fiber optics inspection and the cleaning of the connectors are not new, it is growing in importance as links with higher data rates increase. With less tolerance for overall light loss, the attenuation through adapters must be lower than ever before. There are two types of problems that will cause loss as light leaves one end-face and enters another inside an adapter: contamination and damage. Dust, oils and water blocking gel are common forms of fiber connector end-face contamination. “Simply touching the ferrule will immediately deposit body oil on the end-face, and cause unacceptable attenuation once connection is made,” says Fluke Networks.

The company offers a range of fiber optic microscopes from simple to professional-grade and in November it unveiled an upgrade to its simple fiber optic cable troubleshooting and verification testers, the OptiFiber Pro. It features OTDR (Optical time-domain reflectometer), which is an optoelectronic instrument used to characterize an optical fiber. The OptiFiber Pro comes with some new features including automated splitter identification and a manual professional mode that allows users to increase device performance by easily adjusting the settings automatically.

So, although high installation cost and the growth in the wireless communication systems could yet hamper global optical fiber market growth, lucrative market opportunities will nonetheless be provided by technological advancements in fiber optic cable technology. Furthermore, a rise in investments in OFC network infrastructure is expected to offset the otherwise dampening effects of wireless communication. Indeed, as Allied Market Research predicts, “the success of 5G is heavily predicated on a massive availability of fiber connectivity.” 5G is currently being tested in several markets and is expected to begin widespread implementation in 2020.


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By Nnamdi Anyadike

I have 30 years experience as a freelance business, economy and industry journalist, concentrating on the oil, gas and renewable energy, telecommunications and IT sectors. I have authored a number of well received in-depth market intelligence reports. And I have also spoken at conferences.

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