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Corning celebrates 50 years of optical fibre innovation

Over the past 50 years, research and development of fibre optic technology has enabled the development of new technologies in data communications, video streaming, cloud computing and more

Corning celebrates 50 years of optical fibre innovation

US based fibre cabling specialist, Corning, joined the optical communications industry in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the company’s world-changing invention of low-loss optical fibre. The breakthrough material, each strand thinner than a human hair, made possible today’s ever-faster telecommunications networks that link neighborhoods, connect cities, and bridge continents.

“Our invention of low-loss optical fibre ushered in a communications revolution,” said Wendell P. Weeks, chairman and chief executive officer. “Fifty years ago, few could have imagined the impact of optical fibre on our world today, but that’s what we do at Corning – we create innovations that transform industries, enhance people’s lives, and continue to unleash significant new capabilities.”

Over the past 50 years, that groundbreaking invention has enabled the development of new technologies in data communications, video streaming, cloud computing, and more that enable the connected lifestyle the world is accustomed to today. 

Today, more than ever, people seek to be connected, whether it's with family members in another region, global customers, or massive audiences on social networks. So, to celebrate the birthday of the invention that enables us to FaceTime, text, and connect to the Web – all while on the go -- Corning is taking a moment to reflect on how fibre became a reality.

Corning scientists Drs. Robert Maurer, Donald Keck, and Peter Schultz were brought together more than 50 years ago to develop a highly pure optical glass that could effectively transmit light signals over long distances – a feat that had never been achieved.

In the mid-1960s, it became clear to researchers at the company and to the larger telecommunications industry that the existing copper wire infrastructure used to transfer data and voice would not have enough bandwidth for the projected traffic of the future.

During this time period, members of the British Post Office came to Corning seeking assistance in creating pure glass fibre optics. Their design required a single-mode fibre having a total attenuation – or signal loss -- of about 20 decibels per kilometer.

The very best bulk optical glasses of the day had attenuations of around 1,000 dB/km. This meant the scientists had to see an improvement in transparency of 1098 in order to reach the 20 dB/km goal.

The task seemed impossible, but their successful technological breakthrough forever changed the world.

"This invention started a communications revolution. Corning Optical Communications proudly continues that legacy today." said Michael Bell, senior vice president and general manager, Corning Optical Communications

Dr. Keck recalled the breakthrough, saying: "I knew something was very, very special and unique about this fibre… I hastily measured the results. It was a very short piece of fibre; we thought we got a very good measurement. I recorded in the databook: '17 dB/km, whoopee;' We've met our goal." 

Since that moment on Aug. 7, 1970, Corning has delivered over a billion fibre kilometers and operates several optical fibre plants globally. And even more impressively, this single invention led to what is today Corning's largest business segment – Optical Communications – in which applications such as fibre to the home, indoor wireless technology, and hyperscale data centers are served. 5G accessibility, the cloud, and almost any connection people make today on electronic devices ties back to that moment of discovery.

As they toiled in their lab that summer in 1970, Drs. Maurer, Keck, and Schultz could not have imagined what their discovery would make possible 50 years later. In that same way, today's Optical Communications team that invents, manufactures, and sells Corning's industry-leading fibre, cable, and connectivity solutions can scarcely imagine what this landmark discovery will make possible in the next 50 years. 

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