How the fibre communications revolution began

WWW.OpticalFibreHistory.co.uk website’s focus:

The site is devoted entirely to the early STL part of the history of optical fibre communications (for that is where the story began). However, the contributions of many other organisations and individuals were an absolutely essential part of the story, especially in the development of low loss glass fibres. I cannot possibly do justice to these other stories, but I can recommend the excellent book “City of Light – The Story of Fiber Optics” by Jeff Hecht, which tells the whole story in a very readable and entertaining way, describing the battles and personalities and the much broader picture. In contrast, this website is simply a place for a few memorabilia for those that have an interest in the STL part of the story. I would encourage those who know the other histories, to ensure it is recorded in some way before it is forgotten.

About me:

The end of a 20 metre optical fibre bundle

The end of a 20 metre optical fibre bundle containing 81 fibres. White light launched, emerges green due to differential losses.

20 metre optical fibre bundle 1966-7I joined STL in 1966, and one of my firsts tasks was to modify an existing Free-space optical link (using a Pulse Width Modulated GaAs LED) to use optical fibre. We procured some bare fibre  from Schott Glass, which had a loss of 1.2 dB per metre. Using compressed air I blew more than 80 strands into a plastic tube, creating a fibre bundle 20 metres long. This was the maximum distance achievable with the loss of 24 dB. It was not my first experience of optical communications as my final year project (together with my lab partner Paul Sinclair), was a 1 Mbit/sec free-space optical link. having arrived at STL, I used my experience with high-speed electronics to provide Charles Kao with dispersion measuring equipment.

Richard Epworth with Charles Kao - 2010

Richard Epworth with Charles Kao, in London for celebrations of Charles’ Nobel Prize in Physics

I did not become 100% involved in optical communications until 7 years later, but devoted almost all the rest of my career to developing ever higher data rate fibre systems. Over the next 3 decades I enjoyed my involvement in almost all aspects of fibre systems.

Colour photo of my hand holding a coil of fibre

2016: Half a Century of Optical Fibre Communications

2016 is the 50th anniversary of the publication that started it all.

Optical Fibre has transformed our world yet is now almost completely ignored.

The reasons?:

  • It is largely hidden (beneath our streets and oceans).
  • No surviving commercial organisation has an interest in promoting the STL history.
  • Few remember just how poor global communications used to be.

Useful Links

For anyone who enjoyed STL

STL Quarter Century Club


For the full story of optical communication see

"City of Light - The Story of Fiber Optics" by Jeff Hecht


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