Connectivity - as above, so below

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My Instagram account recently reminded me how big the year 2018 was for space exploration and connectivity. December marked the 50th anniversary of Earthrise, the iconic photo of our planet. NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe, which is headed toward the sun. Elon Musk rocket-launched a Tesla Roadster, with its quaint passenger, Starman. Loon, Alphabet Inc.’s balloon-powered internet access venture, made progress on connecting the world’s 5 billion remote and rural users. And SPACETY, a Chinese aerospace company, launched four new satellites as part of its visionary laser communication network.

But while millions of people were gazing up, I was gazing down, wondering about our oceans.

The Ocean Cleanup launched in 2018 and brought my attention a little closer to home. While the cleanup is working to eliminate swirling vortices of garbage from the surface of the ocean, I learned from this month’s feature writers that most global connectivity is happening below, moving through subsea fiber optic cables lying on the ocean floor.

Communication has been moving across ocean floors since the 1850s, when the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cables were laid. The industry received a huge boost in 1988, when TAT-8, the first trans-Atlantic fiber optic system, was laid. Today, about 90 percent of the world’s international digital data moves via subsea fiber optics. And according to a source in the fiber optics business, over a million kilometers of submarine cable are in service globally.

So, while space images and technologies may capture imaginations via Instagram accounts, the hard work of staying connected on Earth is being performed by fiber optics, a true workhorse industry. Hank Hogan’s article shows how subsea cables are managing the data deluge (read), Andrei Stolov of OFS offers a granular look at how fibers perform in harsh environments (read), and Pierre Laperle of OZ Optics details how components help strengthen fiber’s capabilities (read).

Also this month, Farooq Ahmed looks at ultrafast lasers (read) and John Blyler gives an update on Li-Fi (read). Finally, Robert Smythe, of Äpre Instruments, and Zachary Hobbs, of Sydor Optics, write about how optics are benefitting from a new type of measurement — spectrally controlled interferometry (read).


Published: February 2019

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