Optical fiber is the answer to the communication demands of tomorrow
An optical fiber cable consists of a core, cladding, and a buffer (a protective outer coating), in which the cladding guides the light along the core by using the method of total internal reflection. The core and the cladding (which has a lower-refractive-index) are usually made of high-quality silica glass, although they can both be made of plastic as well. Connecting two optical fibers is done by fusion splicing or mechanical splicing and requires special skills and interconnection technology due to the microscopic precision required to align the fiber cores.
Two main types of optical fiber used in optic communications include multi-mode optical fibers and single-mode optical fibers. A multi-mode optical fiber has a larger core (≥ 50 micrometers), allowing less precise, cheaper transmitters and receivers to connect to it as well as cheaper connectors. However, a multi-mode fiber introduces multimode distortion, which often limits the bandwidth and length of the link. Furthermore, because of its higher dopant content, multi-mode fibers are usually expensive and exhibit higher attenuation. The core of a single-mode fiber is smaller (<10 micrometers) and requires more expensive components and interconnection methods, but allows much longer, higher-performance links.
In order to package fiber into a commercially viable product, it typically is protectively coated by using ultraviolet (UV), light-cured acrylate polymers, then terminated with optical fiber connectors, and finally assembled into a cable. After that, it can be laid in the ground and then run through the walls of a building and deployed aerially in a manner similar to copper cables. These fibers require less maintenance than common twisted pair wires, once they are deployed.
Specialized cables are used for long distance sub-sea data transmission, e.g. transatlantic communications cable. New (2011–2013) cables operated by commercial enterprises (Emerald Atlantis, Hibernia Atlantic) typically have four strands of fiber and cross the Atlantic (NYC-London) in 60-70ms. Cost of each such cable was about $300M in 2011.
Another common practice is to bundle many fiber optic strands within long-distance power transmission cable. This exploits power transmission rights of way effectively, ensures a power company can own and control the fiber required to monitor its own devices and lines, is effectively immune to tampering, and simplifies the deployment of smart grid technology.