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06.15.2015 / Technology

How Does Fiber-Optic Internet Work?

You’ve heard all the great things about Rocket Fiber. You’ve heard about the gigabit speeds and the advanced fiber ring we’ve laid throughout the city. Now you might be wondering, “How does this stuff work?” It sure can sound complicated, and some of it might sound like science fiction, but it’s absolutely real, and it’s crazy high-tech.

Old-fashioned Internet, like DSL, works using copper telephone wires: technology that has existed for over 100 years. All the Reddit posts you read while you should be working get sent to your computer by turning an electrical signal on and off on the copper wire. This works like binary code, on is one, off is zero. Those ones and zeroes get sent to your computer, some complicated sciencey stuff happens (we won’t get into that here), and then you have Internet access.

This signal, and your access to the Internet, can be unreliable. Copper wires are susceptible to radio signal interference and environmental factors, which can knock out your service. Copper wire connections are unsafe, too. Your signal isn’t secure from tapping—eavesdropping on your signal by using an antenna that can “hear” the energy radiated from the wire. This doesn’t happen with fiber-optic cables because energy doesn’t radiate from the cable.

That was then, this is now.

Enter fiber-optic Internet, a space-age solution to the problems of copper wires. Fiber-optic cables can transmit way more data affordably and reliably. These cables are made of hundreds of strands of glass, each one the thickness of a human hair. The glass is so clear that you could see through it even if it were several miles thick. The strands are wound together and coated in a protective sheath. Then, tiny little men carry your data across these glass wires to the entire Internet.

This is actually where the “optic” part of fiber-optic comes into play. An optical laser is hooked up to the cables, which flashes on and off really, really fast (millions of times per second!). The laser is angled in a way so the light bounces around inside the glass fiber but never escapes. This is called total internal reflection (there will be a quiz at the end!). The flashes of light are converted into information that computers can understand, which is then converted into cat memes, tweets, and whatever else the Internet is made of.

There you have it, fiber-optic Internet in a nutshell. This is obviously a simplified version, but let our engineers worry about the specifics. The bottom line is that Rocket Fiber is using the latest technology to put you—and the city of Detroit—light-years ahead.

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