Let’s take a second to appreciate that we literally communicate through light. Without it, our texts, emails, and snaps would never get off the ground. In its gorgeous new video The Story of Light, Bell Labs pays homage to light’s essential role in modern communication — and to the scientists bringing it into the future.
In addition to the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell also came up with the “photophone,” based on the concept that sound could also travel through light. Back in 1880, the idea that light could carry any sort of data was out there. A hundred years later, we call it fiber optics.
Since the birth of fiber optics systems, scientists have been breaking through the boundaries set by the laws of physics to move more data more quickly. The invention of the laser as a light source was the first step: According to Bell labs researcher Peter Winzer, it was like “going from white noise to the beautiful differentiated sounds of the violin.”
Now they had to give that light a path to travel down: fiber-optic cables. Through the years, they’ve been modified to exploit the different properties of light, time, wavelength, phase, amplitude, and polarization, all to carry the ever-increasing amount of data being passed around in the modern world. “Now, a single fiber can carry up to 10 terabits of information per second,” says Andry Chraplyvy, who’s been at the labs since 1980.
And yet that still isn’t enough. The final frontier of fiber optics, the one that pushes past all, is space. How much more data could we move if each individual fiber was split into tens — hundreds — of tiny inner fibers? With Bell Labs leading the charge, it won’t be long before we find out.