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New fiber to help broadband reach high-rises

Corning Inc. is finding its way around very tight corners to help high-speed Internet service reach high-rise apartments and condominiums.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Corning Inc. is finding its way around very tight corners to help high-speed Internet service reach high-rise apartments and condominiums.

The world's largest maker of optical fiber said Monday it has developed a new fiber that is at least 100 times more bendable than standard fiber, clearing a major hurdle for telecommunications carriers drawing fiber into homes.

"This is a game-changing technology for telecommunications applications," said Corning's president, Peter Volanakis. "We have developed an optical fiber cable that is as rugged as copper cable but with all of the bandwidth benefits of fiber."

Three Corning scientists invented low-loss optical fiber in the early 1970s. The gossamer-thin strands of ultra-pure glass delivering voice, video and data at the speed of light have replaced copper as the backbone of America's telephone and cable television networks and enabled the phenomenal growth of the Internet.

Current optical fiber doesn't carry light well when it is bent around corners and routed through a building, making it difficult and expensive to run fiber all the way to homes and businesses. The ultra-flexible technology allows the fiber to be bent with virtually no signal loss, Corning said.

Corning said the improvements will enable carriers to economically offer high-speed Internet, voice and high-definition TV service to virtually all high-rise buildings.

In standard fiber, the light signal leaks out at bends or turns and "with two 90-degree turns, the signal is lost," Corning spokesman Dan Collins said. "This design relies on nanostructures that serve as a mirror or a guardrail, and as the fiber is turned or bent, the light doesn't leak out. We have wrapped the fiber around a ball point pen and it retains its effectiveness."

Michael Render, a market researcher in Tulsa, Okla., said the new product "would be an important breakthrough" in fiber-to-the-home systems.

More than 1 percent of North American homes are now directly connected to fiber, but many of them are single-family dwellings, Render said.

"There obviously are a large number of people that live in multi-tenant buildings, and improvements in the way to get fiber to those individual living units could be very significant," he said.

Render said the technology would make it easier to bring fiber "all the way to each individual living room, for example, or at least to each floor," instead of taking it only to the basement and then using existing wiring to reach the living unit.

There are more than 25 million high-rise apartment homes in the United States and more than 680 million worldwide. "The high cost of installation and difficulty in delivering fiber to the home made this market unappealing to most providers," Volanakis said in a statement.

Corning formed a working team with New York-based Verizon Communications Inc. in February to tackle the problems of installing fiber in multiple-dwelling buildings. Verizon is the only major U.S. phone or cable company to aggressively draw fiber to existing homes.

"This fiber technology will enable us to bring faster Internet speeds, higher-quality high-definition content and more interactive capabilities than any other platform which exists today," said Paul Lacouture, a Verizon Telecom executive.