Access and Feeds

Fiber Optics: Recovering from the Breaks and Tears of Brittle Glass-Fiber Cables

By Dick Weisinger

You’ve upgraded your internet connection to fiber. That’s great! Fiber enables affordable 1-Gbps upload and download speeds (and higher). Fiber optic cabling can provide a much higher throughput than wired cables. With 5G and WiFi-6 coming on line, the demand for optic fiber to support high-bandwidth operations is growing. The US Fiber Broadband Association estimates that 1,400,000 miles of fiber optic will be needed to support the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the US. What’s not to like about fiber optic cables?

The one weakness of optical fiber is its susceptibility to fiber bends and breaks. Fiber optic cabling has a maximum bend angle beyond which the glass cabling might fracture, break, or develop microcracks. Fiber optic cable is also susceptible to weather extremes, thunderstorms, and accidents. The result is that light in the fiber will attenuate and the bandwidth degrades, or more likely, the connection totally breaks.

Researchers at MIT have devised an algorithm to revive a broken optic connection. The algorithm is called ARROW. While it can’t fix the break in one of the optic fiber strands itself, it can reroute connections through neighboring optic strands that are still working. The algorithm allows the optic communication to be more efficient and improves network reliability.

Zhizhen Zhong, researcher at MIT, said that “ARROW can be used to improve service availability, and enhance the resiliency of the Internet infrastructure against fiber cuts. It renovates the way we think about the relationship between failures and network management—previously failures were deterministic events, where failure meant failure, and there was no way around it except over-provisioning the network.”

Ying Zhang, a software engineer manager in Facebook, said that “the research [on ARROW] provides the initial insight into the benefits of reconfiguration. The substantial potential in reliability improvement is attractive to network management in production backbone.”

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