How the fibre communications revolution began
Photo of George Hockham in 2002

Photo of George Hockham during a return visit to STL in 2002

George Alfred Hockham FREng FIET (7 December 1938 – 16 September 2013) was a British electronics engineer who played a vital role in pioneering work on fibre optic communications at the Standard Telecommunication Laboratories in Harlow during the 1960s. Both Charles Kao and George Hockham originally worked on the Microwave Long Haul Waveguide project at the labs in Harlow. Both men then transferred to the newly formed Optical Communications project. George used his expertise in the theoretical analysis of electromagnetic problems, especially microwave phenomena, to model the behaviour of optical fibre waveguides, performing calculations to establish the acceptable level of signal loss. His analysis suggested that a single mode optical dielectric waveguide should be feasible.

At the time, the imperfections in any prototype optical fibres were so great that their waveguiding properties could not be studied experimentally. He therefore investigated the potential impairments resulting from geometric imperfections in any future fibre. As the fibre was anticipated to have a core diameter of only a few microns, many believed that unavoidable variations in fibre diameter would make fibre communication impractical.

Finned brass rod microwave waveguides

Finned brass rod microwave waveguides

George used finned brass rods as microwave waveguides to simulate much smaller diameter optical dielectric waveguides. He was able to explored the effect of periodic variations in optical fibre diameter, using periodic variations in fin diameter along the length of the rods. By measuring the microwave attenuation over different samples of these rods, he determined that moderate diameter variations (created during manufacture) would have negligible effect on a future single mode optical waveguide.

George Hockham and Charles Kao co-authored the seminal 1966 paper on the application of cladded glass fibre as a transmission medium, and George then returned to his first love: microwaves. He worked for over 40 years in theoretical analysis and design techniques applied to the solution of electromagnetic problems covering many different antenna types for radar, electronic warfare and communication systems. He worked on many projects at STL (including a project of mine to implement a instrument landing system using a commutated aperture waveguide).

George Hockham & Charles Kao at Rank Prize event

George Hockham & Charles Kao at the Rank Prize presentation event

In 1978 George and Charles were jointly awarded the Rank Prize for Optoelectronics for their pioneering work. George Hockham later spent time as a research fellow at Queen Mary University, and researching radar antennae at the Gilfillan laboratories of ITT in California, returning to Britain to work for Plessey and later Thorn EMI. After retirement he continued to research modelling of antenna performance.

George Hockham Wikipedia entry


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