How the fibre communications revolution began

Video – The Birth of Optical Fibre Communications

Sir Charles Kao in the Lab at STL in 1966

Rare film of Charles Kuen Kao, pioneer of optical fibre communications, experimenting with a prototype single mode fibre at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories in 1966.
Video on YouTube

Charles Kao experimenting with a single-mode optical fibre

Optical fibre has transformed our world


Optical Fibre annihilated the cost of communicating over global distances, and so enabled the World Wide Web.
The alternative technology was Long Haul Microwave Waveguide (A big hollow pipe), which was being developed as several laboratories around the world. This would have been impractical for undersea, so would have severely limited its global application.


Optical Fibre Communication was invented in the early 1960’s, at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories, in Harlow in the UK.


Charles Kuen Kao was the visionary who pioneered the use of a single mode dielectric (glass) optical fibre waveguide for long distance communications. This was at a time when the losses of the best available glasses made the idea seem impossible to almost everyone else. In recognition he was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics:

“for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication”

He was part of a team at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories who went on to develop optical fibre systems into a practical reality.


In 1966 he and his colleague George Hockham published the paper which is now recognised as the beginning of the optical fibre revolution:

Here is a link to the full paper, (Copyright: the Institution of Engineering & Technology) “Dielectric-fibre surface waveguide for optical frequencies”, by K.C.Kao & G.A.Hockham, Published in the Proceedings of the IEE, in July 1966.

World's first single-mode optical communications fibre 1965

The World’s first single-mode optical communications fibre 1965

What the Wheel did for transport, Optical Fibre has done for Communications

More Speed for Less Energy


2016: Half a Century of Optical Fibre Communications

2016 was 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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