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Fiber optics is said to be revolutionizing communications much as the telephone did 100 years ago. If you want to be on the cutting edge of technology, this is a good place to be. The “optics” come from a concentrated beam of light, a laser, which can be used to transmit voice, data, and video at the same time—a billion or more bits of information per second. The “fiber” is a bundle of transparent, hair-thin flexible strands of glass. Fiber cables are smaller and lighter than conventional cables using copper wires or coaxial tubes, yet they carry much more information and the flow of information proceeds more smoothly.
The combination of laser and glass offers a fast, reliable, and inexpensive means of telecommunication. Because of its advantages over metal wiring, optical fiber is rapidly replacing wire in computers, photocopiers, medical equipment, navigation guidance systems, and weaponry.
Optical fibers are immune to interference from lightning or nearby electric motors, so there is no interruption in the television signal when someone runs a disposal in the kitchen or during a storm. Optical fibers don't “get their wires crossed.” There's no bleed-through of the voices talking on other lines during a telephone conversation. Eavesdropping on conversations or bugging is harder to do and easier to detect.
Fiber-optic technicians assist engineers in designing and testing new uses for fiber optics. They set up electrical and electronic experiments, which may lead to the development of new applications. The technology is still new enough to make experimenting with it exciting. We don't yet know the extent of what fiber optics can do or where it will lead.
Some technicians repair and install existing laser and optical fiber devices and systems. These systems are most often in telephone and computer networks today. Using spectrometers, they measure light frequencies emitted by lasers and adjust them when necessary.
The most active field is designing fiber-optic systems that link buildings and people. For instance, some school systems are converting to fiber-optic networks so that they have rapid access to multimedia presentations coming from the information superhighway. Figuring out where cable hookups should go and splices should be made is up to technicians. Splicing is done with high-powered lasers that fuse cables and require that technicians be on-site.
Experts predict that creating such networks will keep fiber-optic technicians busy for many years to come. New uses, such as in surgery or engineering, will open new fields for employment within the next decade. Laser surgery has long been in practice; now fibers are also being used. The automobile and aviation industries are already investigating how they can best use fiber optics.
Right now there is a shortage of fiber-optic technicians and the job outlook is excellent for the next five years or so. Jobs are primarily in electronics and telecommunications today, but many manufacturing firms are converting to laser-driven systems, so the job market will expand in the years ahead. The opportunities for fiber-optic technology in medicine, aviation, and other forms of transportation have only been hinted at.
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