Entry By:

Corning, USA


Question 1: Describe the profound impact your technology – as part of an end-user product – has had on Society. How has the population been impacted by your technology. This could be behavioral, economical, societal, etc.
History is occasionally reshaped by a discovery that changes the world. Today, we have a technology that revolutionized the way the world communicates. That technology is optical fiber. Through this astounding medium, we transmit voice, data and video at the speed of light along a strand of glass thinner than a human hair. In 1970, Corning invented the first low-loss optical fiber for use in telecommunications. At that time, signal loss at 17 decibels of light per kilometer of fiber was achieved. Since then, Corning’s ongoing innovations have helped make possible ever-faster telecommunications. Today, our optical fibers have a signal loss of 0.17 decibels per kilometer. Optical fiber technology provides the necessary bandwidth for the services we all depend upon. It connects us to communications networks through devices. These devices enable us to send e-mail, conduct research, join social networks, teleconference and much more. None of this would be possible without optical fiber.

Question 2: Tell us about how your technology is unique?  What makes it stand out? How do you differentiate it from other similar technologies?
Prior to the invention of optical fiber, copper wire was the primary medium used for telecommunications. In the mid-1960s, it became clear that copper would not have enough bandwidth. The race among preeminent scientists to develop ultrapure glass capable of transmitting data over light signals was on, and ultimately Corning won.

Corning’s approach was unique in three key ways. First, our research competitors tried to improve the very best known meltable, multi-component optical glasses. In contrast, we chose Frank Hyde’s fused silica (silicon dioxide) the simplest composition, but most difficult glass to handle because of its high melting temperature. Second, we designed the fiber by putting an impurity (Martin Nordberg’s titanium) in the fiber core where the highest transparency was needed. Third, we inverted the conventional “rod-in-tube” fiber making process by depositing a thin film of the Hyde-Nordberg soot material inside a starting tube.

Question 3: When first launched, did your technology make a transformational change for the end-user or incremental changes by improving a current technology?  Describe this.
The optical fiber technology developed by Corning in 1970 was a breakthrough that completely transformed the telecommunications industry. It was a protracted process that required a significant investment of “patient money” to develop a manufacturing process to produce the fiber on a large scale. Simultaneously, new companion technologies such as cable and connectors had to be developed as well.  Of course the semiconductor laser also played a key role by encoding the data to be put on the optical fiber. In 1983 when MCI selected Corning for the first major installation; we had our first commercial customer. Today there are over 1.8 billion kilometers of fiber deployed around the world that have forever changed the end-user experience.

Question 4: Give a specific example (with company names) of the buying chain for your product/technology once you sell it to the next level buyer.  Provide an example of the succession of companies your product goes through, ultimately to get to an end-user.  Example:  We produce a component that we sell to a laser systems manufacturer (name the company) who sells it to a medical OEM (name the company), who then sells it to a hospital (name the hospital).
Corning Optical Fiber manufactures fiber for every application in today’s telecommunications networks. While we are becoming vertically integrated in that we sell our fiber to Corning Cable Systems, we have a number of additional cable customers such as Prysmian Cables and Systems who sell into the public market sector. These companies then sell the cabled fiber to telecommunications carriers such as AT&T, China Telecom and Comcast who install the fiber in their networks and provide a variety services to their end-user customers. Corning fiber is also sold to large distributors such as Anixter and Graybar who supply the enterprise market, which includes customers such as Google.

Question 5: In which vertical market(s) would you classify the end-users of this technology?

Question 6: Give us your one sentence “elevator pitch” you would use to tell a non-technical person about your technology and the critical role it plays in Society.
Optical fiber is the backbone of the global telecommunications infrastructure, enabling instant transportation of voice, data and video to anyone, anywhere, at any time. The technology has removed barriers of distance, time, and location as it connects the world literally at the speed of light.

Question 7: Surprise Us!  What else should we know about your product/technology?
Corning has led the industry in optical fiber innovation for more the 40 years. Our latest product, SMF-28® Ultra fiber, is the first to combine the benefits of industry-leading attenuation and improved macrobend performance in one fiber. Likewise, our ClearCurve® VSDN® fiber is uniquely designed to support emerging high speed interconnects between computers and other consumer electronics devices. These are just two examples of Corning’s unmatched prowess in advancing optical fiber technology.

Additional information.

  1. Lightwave Special Reports - Optical Fiber Spans 30 Years (pdf)
  2. Get the Facts on Fiber Optics (pdf)