Knowing what's behind the curtain
Fiber-optic communications technology is so intrinsic to our Internet-enabled, cloud-driven, instant-video world.
Fiber-optic communications technology is so intrinsic to our Internet-enabled, cloud-driven, instant-video world that it has become essentially invisible to most people—a bit like the Wizard of Oz in the 1939 movie, who hides behind a curtain while performing all sorts of magic tricks for Dorothy and her companions Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. When I try to explain in the simplest terms how the magic works to non-technical friends and family, the extent of response is along the lines of, "so that's how the cat video gets on my Facebook page."
Fortunately, the engineers engaged in developing the next generation of optical communications know very well what's behind the curtain. That is clearly the case this month in our OSA Future Optics interview with Neal Bergano, vice president and CTO at TE Connectivity SubCom, who has spent his professional life helping to develop and deploy the undersea fiber-optic network that encircles the globe (see page 21). It's also evident in our Photonic Frontiers article from contributing editor Jeff Hecht, who describes the research efforts underway to extend optical fiber transmission rates beyond 100 Gbit/s (see page 42). And the same applies to the researchers of future products at the Ginzton Laboratory of Stanford University, whose article on designing silicon photonic devices provides the cover story for this issue (see page 24). Much more on these topics can be learned at the Optical Fiber Communications (OFC) Conference and Exhibition, March 20-24, in Anaheim, CA.
The Internet is not the only magic that optical fiber communications has wrought, of course. Senior editor John Wallace's article reviewing the currently available lineup of kilowatt-class fiber lasers shows that a technology first deployed for the amplification of undersea optical communications has been successfully adapted to a very dissimilar application, materials processing (see page 29).
The curtain around such engineering wizardry is not such a bad thing, as long as we know how to keep building those magical levers and switches.
W. Conard Holton
Editor in Chief