This is a timeline documenting the history and development of fiber optics for communications. Since I was involved in fiber optics starting in the late 1970s, much of this is from personal experiences and memories. Dates, of course, are often approximate, as putting a firm date on the introduction of a new technology is often impossible.
Header image: The origin of the photo above comparing an optical fiber to a copper wire of similar information carrying capability has been lost, but it may be from AT&T around 1977 when they installed the first commercial fiber optic networks.
1954, Transmit images by fiber optics
Narinder Kapany and Harold Hopkins (separately) make bundles of fibers to transmit images.
Abraham Van Heel suggested cladding the fibers to reduce attenuation.
1961, Laser transmission through fiber optics
Elias Snitzer and Will Hicks of American Optical demonstrate a laser beam directed through a thin glass fiber.
1966, Using fiber for data transmission
Charles Kao reveals how to make low-loss fiber suitable for communications using an optical cladding over a pure glass core and removing impurities, plus ideally single-mode operation. (Awarded the Nobel Prize in 2009.)
1970, Semiconductor lasers
Semiconductor lasers demonstrated by both Loffe Physical Institute in Leningrad and Bell Labs. (Alferov and Kroemer shared the Nobel Prize for their discovery in 2000.)
1972, Low-loss fiber manufacturing method developed at Corning
Donald Keck, Peter Schultz and Robert Maurer at Corning develop vapor deposition method to make high-purity, low-loss fibers.
Ethernet was invented at Xerox Palo Alto Research Labs using coaxial cable. Digital Equipment Corp. joined Xerox to standardize ethernet under IEEE as 803.3 in 1983.
1975, Semiconductor lasers
Laser Diode Labs offers first commercial semiconductor lasers.
1975, Connecting computers
NORAD uses fiber to connect computers at Cheyenne Mountain.
1976, CATV fiber link trials
Teleprompter tests fiber optic CATV link in Manhattan.
1977, Fiber optic field trials begin
In April, AT&T installs first telecom link in coal tunnels under Chicago, Ill.
3 weeks later, GTE sends live telephone calls through fiber in Long Beach, Calif.
In July, the British Post Office tests link at Martlesham Heath, United Kingdom.
1978, Fiber to the home
Fiber to the home (FTTH) trials begun in Japan and France, costs were very high, application waited until development of passive optical networks.
1979, Integrated circuits for digital phone systems
Integrated circuit (IC) PCM codecs and SLICs introduced that allow inexpensive conversion of telephone lines to digital, paving the way for fiber optics.
1980, First ethernet standard
Xerox, the inventor, joined Intel and computer manufacturer Digital Equipment Corp. to publish the first standard for ethernet. IEEE would take over the standardization for ethernet and publish the first standard in 1983.
1980, First TV coverage of an event using fiber optics
Fiber transmits TV for Winter Olympics at Lake Placid.
1980-1984, First large backbones in United States
AT&T starts East and West Coast backbones in the United States—45Mb/s with 850 nm lasers in multimode fiber. Fiber begins replacing communications satellites.
1980s, EIA standards for fiber optics
The Electronics Industry Association (EIA) takes on the task of developing standards for fiber optics, merges with U.S. Telecom Suppliers Association (USTSA) to create the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) to write standards.
1982, Long-haul telecom converts to single-mode fiber
British Telecom in the United Kingdom and MCI in the United States commit to nationwide networks on single-mode fiber.
1982, Fiber optic product for CATV networks
Times Fiber introduces MiniHub for CATV networks.
1983, U.S. National Bureau of Standards project for fiber optic power standard
The U.S. National Bureau of Standards initiates a project to create an optical power transfer standard for fiber optics.
1983, IEEE published Ethernet Standard
IEEE published Ethernet Standard under committee 802.3 after taking over from Xerox, Intel and DEC. Ethernet became the dominant LAN and internet standard.
1983, AT&T tests undersea cable
In 1983, AT&T Bell Labs tested the first undersea fiber optic cable in water approximately 5 km deep in the Atlantic Ocean.
1984, Ceramic ferrules for connectors
Kyocera introduces ceramic ferrules for connectors that are precise enough for single-mode fiber. The NEC D4 connector was probably the first connector to use the ceramic ferrule. FC, ST and SC follow.
1984, BT installs first submarine cable
BT lays the first submarine cable to carry commercial traffic to the Isle of Wight, and a year later BT installs a cable from England to Belgium.
1984, IBM introduces Token Ring
IBM introduces Token Ring network for LANs at 4 Mb/s with ring architecture and a 3-byte “token” to allow access. Standardized by IEEE as 802.5 in 1989.
1984, DEC Vaxstation Graphic Terminal
DEC VAXstation Graphic Terminal introduced with fiber optic link to VAX computer for bandwidth and distance requirements.
1984, fiber optic guided missile
Raytheon develops the fiber optic guided missile (FOG-M) controlled by a two-way fiber optic data link. The fiber is payed out from a bobbin in the back of the missile.
Standards work begins on synchronous optical networks for fiber optics, SONET in the United States and SDH internationally. Eventually superseded by carrier ethernet.
1987, Fiber Optic LANs
FOIRL (Fiber Optic Inter-Repeater Link) becomes the first standard fiber optic LAN (IEEE 802.3d). It is followed by 10baseFL/FB/FP in 1993.
1988, Undersea cables
AT&T lays TAT-8, the first transatlantic fiber optic cable. It lasts for 13 years.
1988, Fiber optic CATV system
General Optronics introduces AM CATV fiber optic system, the first affordable CATV fiber system, which leads to hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) CATV networks.
1988, DFB Laser
Distributed feedback (DFB) laser invented by Herwig Kogelnik of Bell Labs years earlier finally becomes commercially available. Its narrow linewidth and stable wavelength makes longer distance and wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) possible for CATV networks.
1990, Ethernet over twisted-pair cabling
IEEE standardizes ethernet over twisted pair cabling as 10Base-T.
1990, World Wide Web
Tim Berners-Lee at CERN develops the basis for hypertext markup language (HTML), hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) and uniform resource locator (URL). That same year, Berners-Lee posted the first web page on what he called the World Wide Web.
1991, Structured cabling standards
What we now call structured cabling developed using balanced transmission over twisted-pair phone wires and modular phone connectors for 10 Mb/s ethernet with a fiber optic option. Standardized by TIA 568 in 1991. Adopted internationally as ISO/IEC 11801 in 1995.
1993, WWW browser
Marc Andreessen at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana developed the first web browser, Mosaic. The internet is ready for take-off!
1993, Passive optical network (PON)
10base-FP (fiber passive) ethernet LAN based on a passive splitter approved as IEEE 802.3J—the first standard PON using passive star coupler.
1993, Fiber optic LAN, FDDI
FDDI (fiber distributed data interface) becomes the first commercial 100 Mb/s LAN using dual-ring architecture.
1994, The internet goes public
The internet becomes mainstream, starting a new generation of communications and commerce.
1995, Fiber Optic Association (FOA) founded
FOA started by a dozen instructors at Fiber U conference as a professional association for fiber optics.
1995, Hybrid fiber-coax fiber networks for CATV/broadband
The inventions of DFB lasers and cable modems allows CATV companies to build hybrid fiber-coax networks capable of broadband service to subscribers.
1995, Fiber LAN—fast ethernet
IEEE 802.3 standardizes several versions of 100 Mb/s ethernet using twisted pair and fiber optics.
1995, Fiber amplifiers extend long-haul networks, allow WDM
Fiber amplifiers allowed regeneration of fiber optic signals without converting back to electrical signals, greatly extending fiber’s distance capacity and facilitating wavelength division multiplexing.
1995-2001, Dot com “bubble”
The advent of the internet and deregulation of the U.S. telecom market led to an overgrown market—a bubble—that burst in 2001.
1997, DOCSIS standard for CATV Broadband Networks
Using cable modems and hybrid fiber coax networks, CATV systems begin offering fast, always-on internet service, dominating the market for broadband.
Wavelength division multiplexing systems introduced.
1996, Hollow-core fibers
University of Bath demonstrates hollow-core fibers where light is guided by the structure of the fiber, not the refractive index of the core and cladding.
1996, First submarine cables to use fiber amplifiers
TAT-12 installed using fiber amplifiers.
1997, Data centers
The growth of the internet and the need to store and distribute vast amounts of data leads to the design of giant data centers around the world.
1998, Fiber U online
In 1998, FOTEC, the originator of Fiber U, begins offering online self-study programs on fiber optics. Fiber U moved to the FOA in the early 2000s.
1998, Gigabit ethernet fiber LAN
Gigabit ethernet using short-wavelength VCSEL sources and multimode fiber was introduced. Twisted pair versions follow.
1998, Submarine cables use WDM
First submarine cables use WDM.
1999, “internet of things” term coined
Kevin Ashton of P&G and later MIT coined the term internet of things to describe the concept of connected devices.
1999, MPO multifiber array connector standardized
TIA releases 12/24 fiber array connector standard, theoretically covers up to 72 fibers, the MPO multifiber fiber optic connector.
2000, OS2 low water peak single-mode fiber standardized
OS2 low water peak single-mode fiber allowed coarse wavelength division multiplexing (CWDM) over a broad wavelength range.
2000, 3G cellular
3G cellular standards were a big jump up in bandwidth to greater than 1 Mb/s, making the smartphone feasible.
2001, dotcom/fiber optic bubble bursts
The dotcom/fiber optic bubble of the late 1990s burst in 2001, causing a 70% decline in the fiber optic industry that took nearly a decade to recover. The burst also left much dark fiber, as much as 90% of what was installed in the prior 5 years.
2002, OM3 multimode fiber
TIA standardizes OM3 multimode fiber with higher bandwidth than regular 50/125 fibers for faster networks.
2002, 10-gigabit ethernet fiber LAN, pluggable modular fiber optic transceivers
It took only 4 years to increase fiber optic ethernet speeds 10 times to 10G—and introduce pluggable modules for transceivers that allowed choosing the appropriate media for the application.
2004, EPON standard LAN used for FTTH
PON version of ethernet published by IEEE 802.3 committee.
2005, BPON standard for FTTH
ITU-T G.983 broadband passive optical network (BPON) standardized.
2005, Verizon FiOS FTTH
Verizon begins first FiOS FTTH network in Keller, Texas.
Fiber to the Home networks, mostly based on PONs using optical splitters to connect multiple subscribers on one fiber, begin deployment worldwide.
2007, Bend-insensitive single-mode fiber
Bend insensitive single-mode fiber was introduced to reduce losses caused by stress on the fibers. It would lead to the development of microcables and high-fiber-count cables.
2007, QPSK encoding
Quadrature phase-shift keying (QPSK) moves from amplitude to phase modulation to allow longer fiber link lengths—extends fiber to 500 km at 100 Gb/s.
Apple introduces the iPhone and starts a boom in use of cellular smart devices.
2008, GPON standard for FTTH
ITU-T G.984 gigabit passive optical network (GPON) standardized. Since its introduction, it has been updated several times to include 10G PONs.
2008, Coherent fiber optic transmission
Ciena introduces a coherent fiber optic system for long-haul fiber at 100 Gb/s and higher. Fiber can now go thousands of kilometers without repeaters.
2009, Bend-insensitive multimode fiber
Bend insensitive multimode fiber was introduced to reduce losses caused by stress on the fibers. It became the de facto standard for multimode fiber.
2010, 100-gigabit ethernet fiber LAN
Ethernet speeds were upped another 10 times to 100G using multilane parallel optics for MM fiber and WDM for SM fiber. 40G options were also developed, including an option for short links on Cat 8 UTP copper cables.
2010, Google fiber project unveiled
Over 1,100 communities responded to Google’s invitation to become the first Google Fiber city with gigabit internet FTTH service. Kansas City won the initial competition and construction began in 2011.
2010, 4G and LTE cellular systems
4G and LTE cellular systems provided a big jump in bandwidth over 3G at a good time as smartphone usage grows exponentially.
2010, 10GPON standard for FTTH
ITU G.987/8 standard for 10G passive optical network, can work as overlay for GPON using WDM.
2011, Wireless small cells
Low-power small cells used to add capacity to urban wireless networks.
2012, Gigabit FTTH
The Electricity Power Board of Chattanooga, Tenn., offers the first gigabit FTTH broadband network.
2013, Austin, Texas becomes second Google Fiber City
Over the next few years, Google fiber also added Provo and Salt Lake City, Utah; Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Atlanta; Nashville, Tenn.; San Antonio and Huntsville, Ala.
2011, Open Compute Project (OCP) group started
OCP was started by Facebook in 2009 to standardize data center product design and make designs open source. Designs are popular, especially in hyperscale data centers.
2011, OM4 multimode fiber
TIA standardizes OM4 multimode fiber with higher bandwidth for faster networks.
2016, Google Fiber stops expansion
Google fiber announced it would stop expansion but continue offering service to cities where it was operating.
2016, OM5 multimode fiber for short-wavelength WDM
OM5 fiber was specified for bandwidth in the range of 850–950 nm to allow WDM with VCSELs.
2016, Bell Labs demos 1 Tb/s over single-mode fiber
Nokia Bell Labs and Technical University of Munich demonstrate transmission of 1 terabits/second over single-mode fiber, approaching the Shannon limit.
2017, Fiber optic microcables reduce size
Microcables use bend-insensitive fibers to pack more fibers into smaller cables, easing installation.
2018, High-count fiber optic cables
Fiber optic cables with very high fiber counts of 1,728, 3,456 and 6,912 fibers introduced for use in data centers and dense metropolitan areas.
2019, 5G cellular wireless networks
Carriers begin installing 5G wireless cellular networks, requiring installation of large fiber optic backbones for connections.
2020, Fiber networks prove resilient during pandemic
Working from home using videoconferencing adds enormous traffic to the internet, but fiber optic communications systems continue to work without glitches.
2020, 400-gigabit ethernet
400G also offers option to multiplex multiple channels of 25/50/100G data.
2021, Hollow-core fiber offers “faster” transmission
Hollow core fiber becomes commercially available, promoted because light travels almost 50% faster in the hollow core than in a glass core.
2022-2023, BEAD funding
U.S. government allocates $65 billion through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program to connect everybody to broadband, prefers FTTH.
Interesting links about fiber optic history
FOA Fiber Optic History Illustrated: https://foa.org/Timeline/index.html
Fiber Optic Chronology, Jeff Hecht: https://www.jeffhecht.com/chron.html