Hollow-Core Optical Fiber - A Potential Game Changer

Posted by Gary Miller on Thu, Apr 16, 2020 @ 16:04 PM

OFS recently made a splash when they announced a new hollow-core optical fiber optimized for low latency transmission.  While hollow-core fibers have existed for about 20 years, it is exciting to see such an innovative and promising fiber technology being more broadly applied to commercial applications. 

Hollow-core fiber holds the promise of delivering lower latency at longer distances with fewer repeaters than traditional glass fiber. While specialty manufacturers have been offering hollow-core fiber for some time, this recent announcement could represent a move to broader use beyond specialty applications as their performance specifications are starting to approach those of traditional glass fibers. 

What is Hollow-Core Optical Fiber?

As the name suggests, hollow-core fiber varies from conventional optical fibers by guiding light through a hollow region vs. the glass on which traditional fiber travels.  The light beam is confined to the hollow-core by holes in the surrounding glass material, which looks like a honeycomb in a cross-section. This means that only a minor portion of optical power moves through solid fiber material, typically glass. Otherwise, the light travels uninterrupted through air. 

Hollow-Core Optical Fiber Image courtesy of Laser Focus World
Nov 19, 2019

Hollow-core fiber offers several benefits vs. traditional fiber.  Its lower signal loss allows for deployment over longer distances without repeaters.  Because light travels through air faster than another medium like glass, hollow-core fiber offers increased overall speed and lower latency, along with higher bandwidth because each fiber is physically separated in a single-spatial-mode.  

DARPA worked with hollow-core fibers in 2013 and noted the low loss of light intensity of longer distances and polarization control, which hollow-core applicable for applications such as “sensing, interferometry, and secure communications.” The DARPA research highlighted that ”Hollow-core fiber can also be bent and coiled while guiding light at speeds 30 percent faster than conventional fiber.”

In March of this year, researchers from the Zepler Institute for Photonics and Nanoelectronics at the University of Southampton were able to demonstrate hollow-core fibers that “attenuate the light traveling through it by 50% less than the previous record, reported only six months ago.” They were also able to double the maximum transmission length for data relay, both significant achievements in the advancement of the technology.

As part of their innovative design, “the attenuation in data-transmitting hollow-core fibers has been reduced by over a factor of 10, from 3.5dB/km to only 0.28 dB/km within a factor of two of the attenuation of conventional all-glass fiber technology. At the same time, the maximum transmission distance at which large bandwidth data streams can be transmitted through an air-core has been improved by over 10 times, from 75 to 750km.”


The University of Southampton researchers were also able to demonstrate hollow-core fiber’s 30% reduction in round-trip data transmission times that could enable, “the next generation of connected real-time digital applications, from smart manufacturing and advanced healthcare to entertainment.”  

Low latency over long distances offers significant opportunities in industries that require or seek to minimize latency such as banking and finance, or mission-critical industries that use real-time sensors such as utilities can benefit from reduced latency and polarization control. New, innovative applications such as autonomous vehicles and remote surgery become more feasible and may also be able to utilize such fibers.  

OFS’s AccuCore HCFTM Optical Fiber solution may represent the next step in the evolution of fiber technology as it becomes the backbone of high-frequency, low-latency applications and evolving technologies such as 5G and other mainstream fiber-based communications applications.

Learn More

Questions about hollow-core optical fibers?  Seeking to acquire HCF for an upcoming lab testing or networking application?  Contact M2 Optics and our team will help you to determine the most efficient solution for achieving your goals.

Topics: optical fiber, latency, hollow-core optical fiber