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Fiber Optics Without Fiber

Beaming light through the air offers the speed of optics without the expense of fiber

12 min read
Fiber Optics Without Fiber

Mention optical communication and most people think of fiber optics. But light travels through air for a lot less money. So it is hardly a surprise that clever entrepreneurs and technologists are borrowing many of the devices and techniques developed for fiber-optic systems and applying them to what some call fiber-free optical communication.

Known within the industry as free-space optics (FSO), this form of delivering communications services has compelling economic advantages. Although it only recently, and rather suddenly, sprang into public awareness, free-space optics is not a new idea. It has roots that go back over 30 years--to the era before fiber-optic cable became the preferred transport medium for high-speed communication. In those days, the notion that FSO systems could provide high-speed connectivity over short distances seemed futuristic, to say the least. But research done at that time has made possible today's free-space optical systems, which can carry full-duplex (simultaneous bidirectional) data at gigabit-per-second rates over metropolitan distances of a few city blocks to a few kilometers.

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IEEE President’s Note: Looking to 2050 and Beyond

The importance of future-proofing IEEE

4 min read
Photo of K. J. Ray Liu
IEEE

What will the future of the world look like? Everything in the world evolves. Therefore, IEEE also must evolve, not only to survive but to thrive.

How will people build communities and engage with one another and with IEEE in the future? How will knowledge be acquired? How will content be curated, shared, and accessed? What issues will influence the development of technical standards? How should IEEE be organized to be most impactful?

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The Device That Changed Everything

Transistors are civilization’s invisible infrastructure

2 min read
A triangle of material suspended above a base

This replica of the original point-contact transistor is on display outside IEEE Spectrum’s conference rooms.

Randi Klett

I was roaming around the IEEE Spectrum office a couple of months ago, looking at the display cases the IEEE History Center has installed in the corridor that runs along the conference rooms at 3 Park. They feature photos of illustrious engineers, plaques for IEEE milestones, and a handful of vintage electronics and memorabilia including an original Sony Walkman, an Edison Mazda lightbulb, and an RCA Radiotron vacuum tube. And, to my utter surprise and delight, a replica of the first point-contact transistor invented by John Bardeen, Walter Brittain, and William Shockley 75 years ago this month.

I dashed over to our photography director, Randi Klett, and startled her with my excitement, which, when she saw my discovery, she understood: We needed a picture of that replica, which she expertly shot and now accompanies this column.

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Fourth Generation Digitizers With Easy-to-Use API

Learn about the latest generation high-performance data acquisition boards from Teledyne

1 min read

In this webinar, we explain the design principles and operation of our fourth-generation digitizers with a focus on the application programming interface (API).

Register now for this free webinar!

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