Anybody watching television in the last few months has noticed it by now: during commercial breaks, telecommunications companies have started advertising a new faster and more stable way of connecting to the internet through something called “fibre”. Sounds pretty good, don’t you think? But was is this “fibre”?
To put it very simply, a fibre optic internet connection uses a transmitter to send light pulses through a glass fibre optic line. When these pulses arrive at their destination, they are converted to an electrical signal by a receiver. Because it is a light transmission, it is an extremely fast connection.
A brief history
Fibre optic technology started being used from the 1970s onwards, but only became a viable option for households in the mid to late 2000s. Until that point, the technology was still very much in its developmental stage and the different components used were too expensive for widespread replacement of traditional lines by fibre optic lines.
Though prices have now come down, fibre has not yet been implemented everywhere in South Africa, or worldwide for that matter, as the demand needs to be high enough to warrant installing it for any given area. You may have seen those leaflets in your mailbox. The ones where telecom companies enquire into whether or not fibre would be something you and your neighbours would be interested in. Now you know why.
There are three major advantages to choosing fibre optics over the more traditional asymmetrical digital signal line (ADSL), which uses copper wire telephone lines.
It’s faster and more consistent
Though fibre can achieve much higher speeds, for a household connection, you are looking at connection speeds from 10 Mbps all the way to 1000 Mbps, which is vastly superior to the 1 to 10 Mbps that most ADSL lines offer. With this much broadband available, somebody could be streaming HD television content in the lounge whilst you are participating in an online course or downloading huge amounts of data without any fluctuation in the connection.
There is no difference in speed between uploads and downloads
An ADSL connection is asymmetrical, hence the A in ADSL. This means that your download speeds far outweigh your upload speeds. In this day and age of online storage space, YouTube channels that need updating and other user generated content, having only a fraction of the speed available to put something online, can be a bit of an issue. With fibre, your upload speed is as fast as your download speed.
It’s the future
Copper wire networks have more or less reached their limit. They will not get much faster and they will not allow for much more expansion as more users get connected to the internet. By comparison, fibre optics wires are smaller, lighter, weather proof, more affordable each passing day, can transport a lot more data and suffer no electrical interference as they are based on light transmission. By getting fibre, you are guaranteed a future-proof setup for whatever the internet will explode into next.
How will you be connected?
There are different ways to get connected to a fibre optic network but the most common one for residential areas would be what is called Fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), also known as Fibre-to-the-home (FTTH). FTTP or FTTH are pretty straightforward, the fibre optic cable runs all the way to your home. From there you connect a modem to the network, log in through your internet service provider and start browsing. Most of the bigger telecommunication companies are starting to offer FTTP or FTTH, provided your area has been equipped with fibre already. You can easily check coverage on the website of your provider of choice.
Just remember one thing though, fibre is not a strand of magical glass that conjures lightning fast internet out of thin air. Your modem, router capabilities and even your computer also have an impact on your connection speed and stability. Be sure your equipment can handle the speeds offered by your brand new fibre optic line, or update your hardware if necessary.