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Telecommunications Basics Part 1: Evolution of Networks

In our internet-driven society, telecommunications networks are more critical than ever and will only become more integral. Despite their heavy influence on society, telecommunications systems don’t get many opportunities to shine in the spotlight. So today, we are celebrating telecommunications by exploring its basic principles and progress over the years.

A vintage telephone sits on a counter.
Telecom Basics Part 1

In the 19th century, preliminary telephone networks utilized copper cables. These copper-based networks were the backbone of all telecommunications networks until the widespread adoption of Fiber Optic technology. Since copper cables are an analog technology, they transmit data using electrical signals through twisted pairs of insulated cables to reduce data loss and cut down on outside interference. For example, imagine a typical phone call on a vintage telephone like the one pictured above. First, a person on one end speaks into the phone; this voice data is then converted into electrical signals, which quickly travel along copper cables to the other end of the line, where the electrical signals are turned back into voice data for the person listening on the other end. This continues back and forth until the end of the call. Barebones copper cable networks, primarily used for telephones and telegrams until the first internet services became commercially available, is often called “Plain Old Telephone Service,” or P.O.T.S.

The first internet systems were eventually built on the back of the traditional copper telephone networks. These initial systems were not particularly fast, and the copper cables took up lots of physical space to transmit large amounts of data at an acceptable rate. Eventually, these systems were due for an upgrade. This is where Fiber Optics enters the picture, forever altering the basics of telecommunications networks.

A telecom construction worker fixes cables on a telephone phone.
Telecom Basics Part 1

Fiber Optics permanently changed the telecommunications industry as we know it by introducing cables that could transmit large amounts of data more quickly and effectively than traditional copper networks. While copper networks transmit signals using electricity, fiber networks transmit data through light signals. Fiber Optic cables have many small glass tubes inside them that allow light signals to pass through them incredibly quickly. These small glass tubes are called Fibers, and the light passing through them is called Optics, hence the name Fiber Optics. These fibers, made up of silica glass, are extraordinary because of their clarity, which helps transmit light signals effectively, and their toughness. Because of their composition, these glass fibers are resilient. They can handle being moved and bent, making them ideal for being used in aerial, buried, or underground applications. Light signals carrying user data are internally reflected within the fibers and their protective layers en route to their ultimate destination. These fibers are also much more efficient than copper cables. They can transmit more data faster and in a smaller-sized cable. For example, you could fit 144 fibers in a cable only ¼ of an inch thick! These tiny, mighty fibers transmit data, voice, and video signals at the speed of light to users worldwide!

What’s the next significant advancement in telecommunications networks, you ask? It’s hard to say! While Fiber Optic networks can still be improved to achieve even faster speeds and sustain larger bandwidths, there is no telling what kind of technological breakthrough in our future could lead to the next revolution in network construction. For now, at least, it is safe to say that Fiber networks rule the day, and only time will tell what kind of exciting progress we could see later.

If you enjoyed learning about the basics of telecommunications, stay tuned for a new series of blogs covering this topic. In the meantime, check out our library of other such content.

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