Fiber optic technology is the future, but how into the future are they? Everything has an expiration date, and knowing when something will outlive its usefulness allows communication management to avoid sudden failures. Answering this question, however, is more difficult than most people anticipate.
How Long is Long?
People need to be more specific when asking how long a fiber optic will last. Do they mean how long the physical cables are designed to last, or how long will they remain operational, because there is a difference. The physical longevity of a cable usually lasts for an average of 20-25 years, but their operation can last for much longer in practice.
The operational viability of a fiber optic system depends on the design and the type of cable and transceivers it’s using, as well as the environmental conditions they function in. People can easily get information regarding the first factor through online resources.
Online retailers, such as optdex.com, for example, have description pages for the transceivers they sell. Information like the manufacturer, compatibility, maximum data transfer, so on and so forth, will allow managers to make estimates on its operational longevity, which is all they’re going to get.
One of the more interesting things about fiber optic technology, especially when it comes to the question on longevity, is the difficulty in providing a definite answer. This is because optic technology often evolves and changes before the lifespan of the “old” system reaches its expected expiration date. It’s a strange situation wherein several good things come together and prevent people from answering a vital question.
The 1980s for example, only had single wave transmission, making dispersion shifted (DSF) systems the dominant option. The introduction of multiple wavelength systems (DWDM) during the 90s rendered the DSF obsolete, leading many people to believe that the single wavelength life span was ten years. This is an inaccurate conclusion, though, since the DSF systems didn’t fail, they were just usurped by a superior alternative.
It’s not every day when the reliability of a tool, coupled with the speed of its development, actually prevents even the experts in providing a definite answer to a question vital to its operation. This is what’s known in many circles as a very good problem to have, and everyone should hope that it continues for many decades to come.