How the fibre communications revolution began


Stansted U3A Saturday Morning Seminar, Feb 13th 2015
Free Church hall, Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex, UK
From Fire to Fibre, the history of communicating with light

– by Richard Epworth

Some web links that might be of interest

Check these out first:

Remarkable video of Sir Charles K.Kao, Optical fibre pioneer, February 1966

Great Interactive Map of Undersea Communication links

You can experiment with refracting light

Many more below:

Abstract of Talk:

Throughout history we have used light to communicate using fire, the sun’s rays and signal lamps. We explored the history of various methods used, and the reasons for their success and failure. In the 19th century the harnessing of electricity led to the invention of the telegraph, beginning an era where information was communicated almost exclusively by electricity.

The invention of the laser in 1960 prompted many to look again at the possibilities of communicating using light. Then in 1966 a new age of communication was born in a research laboratory in nearby Harlow. The novel idea was to communicate using light guided within the centre of tiny hair-thin glass fibres. This technology has transformed our world by enabling the World Wide Web and cheap long distance phone calls. Today we are interconnected through millions of miles of optical fibres, guiding signals of light to their various destinations. Yet this revolutionary technology remains largely hidden beneath our streets and on the ocean floor. We discovered the Why and How of communicating using light using simple analogies and demonstrations.

Early days

Visual TelegraphsVideo Good video, includes all sorts


Signal lamps, Flags & Semaphore

Signal lamps Aldis Lamp etc.

Flag Semaphore

Mechanical Semaphore

Marine Signal Flags

Electrical Communication

Electrical Telegraph

Morse Code


Binary Numbers

Finger Binary


You can experiment with refracting light

And loads of great Physics simulations here:

Optical Fibre:

Details of different kinds of fibre and phenomena

Undersea Systems

Great Interactive Map of Undersea Communication links Click on a link or a location to zoom in and learn more.

The first fibre

Remarkable video of Sir Charles K.Kao, Optical fibre pioneer in February 1966

Various images from the history of Fibre communication:

Recent Standard Telecommunication Laboratories (STL)

Gwen Kao’s visit to Harlow and Bishop’s Stortford 2015

Demolition of the old labs on Flickr

Time-Lapse video of the demolition:

Soon to become the ‘Kaodata’ datacentre: