Fiber-optics has been around for more than six decades, but it became a household word during the 1990s-the decade of electronic communications. Fiber-optic equipment from the early 1980s bears little resemblance to today's high-bandwidth, easy-installation products.

During the past 15 years, fiber's technological leaps have kept pace with both the increased volume of data communications and the continuing demand for greater bandwidth. During the last five years, especially, the fiber-optic industry achieved incredible improvement in the performance, strength, bandwidth, and cost of fiber-optic equipment. Falling fiber-optic prices, in particular, could help fiber give copper cable a run for its money in the horizontal cabling market.

For electrical contractors, ease of installation is just as important as price. In 1985, only firms with extensive technical knowledge did fiber optic installations. Back then it took two- or three-man teams in special air-conditioned trucks equipped for fusion splicing of the fiber strands for the telephone companies. Cable that couldn't be pulled into these special trucks was spliced in sealed tents to assure no stray contaminants entered the splice and degraded the signal. In some cases, it took all day to splice a single multi-fiber cable.

By comparison, today a variety of organizations install fiber systems and employ many different installation methods and adhesives. Siemon Co.'s LightSpeed adhesive system can save time and improves on successful termination steps over standard anaerobic processes by eliminating termination steps and optimizing cure characteristics. The adhesive has a colored tint to provide visual identification during insertion, so the installer knows when a proper quantity of adhesive is used.

*In addition, various types of cable constructions are now available. Indoor/outdoor cables eliminate the indoor/outdoor splice or patch panel. Choices include loose tube, ribbon, breakout, premise, etc., with each design having specific performance and cost factors

Let's look at how fiber-optic components progressed over the years.

1934 Fiber-optic technology is born. AT&T employee Norman R. French patents an optical telephone system that uses a solid rod of glass or quartz (or similar material) for communication purposes.

1960 Theodere H. Maiman operates the first laser for which communications is its main application.

1975 Semiconductor lasers become commercially available.

1977 Bell Systems and General Telephone both offer their first fiber-optic communication systems.

In the next 20-plus years, the fiber-optic industry achieved incredible improvements in both the performance and cost of fiber-optic components. Today, optical-fiber technology is still keeping pace with the spiraling demand for more datacommunications networks and greater bandwidth-and the limits of optical fiber are yet to be reached.