Fiber Optics: 50 Years Of Innovation At Corning | Optical Communications | Corning

This year, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the invention of low-loss optical fiber — an innovation that has transformed the way we connect and that lies at the cornerstone of our communications revolution. In a Corning lab on a Friday afternoon five decades ago, a single strand of glass and a bright spot of light set the world on an epic path of continuous innovation.

Optical fiber shapes the networks that connect us to each other, today - and to the boundless possibilities of tomorrow. Whether you're making a phone call across the world, downloading a video on your tablet, or reading this article right now, optical fiber delivers the streamlined connectivity needed in today's high-speed world.

In the mid-1960s, the race was on to replace the existing copper wire infrastructure used to transfer data and voice, as it clearly lacked the bandwidth for the future. Building on a long history of innovation, Corning researchers developed a new, highly pure optical glass thinner than a human hair that could effectively transmit light signals over long distances for the first time. While clearly a major achievement, they never imagined how fully their invention would revolutionize the telecommunications industry.

Today, the majority of signals still travel along fiber optic networks and utilize the same basic principles of data transmission today. Corning’s iconic innovation continues to harness light and shape the way we communicate — sending voice, emails, music and videos around the world at the speed of light. 

With Corning’s continued emphasis on research and development to meet our changing needs, the optical fiber revolution that began over half a century ago will continue to fuel advancements in connectivity for generations to come.

The History Of Optical Fiber

Thanks to fiber optics, invented in a Corning lab in 1970, enormous amounts of data, phone calls and video can move around the planet. That movement of data has in turn enabled innovation after innovation, including the internet, cloud, mobile boom, streaming TV, autonomous cars, bitcoin, AI – and whatever comes next. This is that story.

  • Corning Discovers Low-Loss Fiber

    Physicist Charles Kao described how fiber could transmit information in 1966. But it took three Corning scientists trying countless combinations of glass to finally discover a workable low-loss fiber.

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  • Fiber Gets Real

    By 1978, optical fiber was moving out of the lab and finding its first commercial uses around the world.

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  • A New Era In Voice Calls

    In the early 1980s, a revolution began in voice phone calls. Key to that was the arrival of fiber optics, which allowed companies to build new high-bandwidth lines that could carry more calls at lower cost.

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  • The Dot-Com Data Explosion

    The mid-1990s set the table for the internet era to unfold. High-bandwidth fiber networks could carry web pages, email and data across continents and oceans. By the end of the nineties, the internet would be an integral part of people’s lives.

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  • Mobile Changes Life And Work

    In the late-2000s, the smartphone and cloud freed computing from a place. Now every person could connect to the internet from anywhere. That in turn generated enormous new data traffic, hauled from place to place over fiber networks.

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  • Cloud Computing And Software As A Service

    As business shifted to the cloud, so did consumers, using social media platforms to not only connect but also to store photos and files. Corning innovations enabled the beginning of a new world of IoT, artifical intelligence, and virtual reality.

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  • The COVID-19 Crisis And A New Era Of Connection

    As COVID-19 shut down entire countries and moved work and life online, an unprecendeted surge in bandwidth demand made optical fiber more necessary than ever.

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Celebrating A History Of Transformative Discovery →

At Corning, for nearly 170 years, we’ve innovated relentlessly, tackling the problems and needs of our customers with life-changing discoveries. Our laser-like focus on research and development means gathering the top minds in science and technology.

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Fiber Optics: Leading The Way To New Discoveries →

With the passion for invention and discovery, Corning has developed many of the latest pioneering technologies made possible by fiber optics. These extend across the areas of optical communications networks, mobile consumer electronics, display, and automotive.

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Meeting New Challenges Through Expansive Innovation →

Corning’s discovery of low-loss optical fiber in 1970 revolutionized the industry. While we continue to develop and improve on this technology, the same basic principles our scientists employed 50 years ago continue to drive today’s connectivity with new products and applications.

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