Fiber for Breakfast Week 22: An Overview of Fiber Optic Sensing

Fiber for Breakfast Week 22: An Overview of Fiber Optic Sensing

August 27, 2020

Imagine if we could detect an earthquake hours before it happens, or identify public safety problems before anyone has called 911. Technology like that might seem out of a sci-fi novel for some, but for those working in fiber optic sensing, it is already here.

At the latest Fiber for Breakfast, two member company representatives of the Fiber Optic Sensing Association (FOSA) discussed how fiber optic sensing will innovate the way we do business and the way we live—and why fiber is needed to make that transformation happen.

“There are already incredible fiber resources in the ground,” said Stan Fendley, director of legislative and regulatory policy at Corning. “You can turn any telecom network into a sensing network, and that can be very valuable.”

Fiber optic sensing measures backscattering of light occurring in an optical fiber when the fiber encounters vibration, strain or temperature change. This technology can monitor anything from trains and roads to natural disasters. As more industries move to work more efficiently—and as more communities move to integrate IoT applications—fiber optic sensing aims to be a game changer.

Michael Hines, market manager for industrial sensing at OFS, used a rail operator as an example. Right now, technologies on the train deliver limited data back to the operators. Problems become apparent only as they happen.

Fiber optic sensing can track things like landslides blocking railways, defects in rails or train cars and the position of each train at any given time in real time.

“In terms of tracking trains, if you’re operating a railroad, you want to know the position of the train, be aware of the train stops, and track it if it stops and makes no noise,” he said. “If they had one technology that they could all tap into, how could their rail operations improve? That’s the question we’re really exploring right now.”

Fiber optic sensing is also multifunctional. Because it can detect backscatter of varying types, this technology can be used in several different ways. Companies and municipalities use it to monitor their oil pipelines, study traffic patterns on the highway, prepare for natural disasters and keep an eye on high security areas.

In Smart Cities and Communities, fiber optic sensing will transform the way people live and work. Communities that invest in fiber have higher home values and improved economic performance. Fiber optic sensing promises to add another benefit for communities adding in expansive fiber networks: more connected public safety, enhanced traffic flow and smarter applications that improve people’s quality of life.

“Every city in America wants to be a Smart City,” said Fendley. “I think the telecom industry—the fiber community—is well placed to really take advantage of that.”

Fiber optic sensing can work off existing fiber backbones, meaning the resources to make these applications happen are already widely operational. And for new communities looking to install fiber networks, Hines said fiber optic sensing capabilities should be part of that conversation. As high speed internet becomes a necessity and not a luxury, there will be more opportunity for fiber optic sensing to expand.

“We have fiber in the ground in most places,” Hines said. “Let’s try to take advantage of that. There are new developments every day. It’s fairly mature technology, but it is in its infancy in terms of application, so expect a lot more from fiber optic sensing in the coming decades."

Join us for the next Fiber for Breakfast live video series on Sept. 2 at 10 a.m. ET. The topic: The Digital Divide -- How Do We Move Forward? 


Written by:
Kate Jacobson