Around the World in 80 Milliseconds
Evonik makes the Internet speed
The Internet is enabling new, exciting, and useful applications, such as videoconferencing, live streaming, and online games-at a furious pace. Technologies that had earlier seemed inconceivable are suddenly becoming reality. But how long can this continue? The number of active web content creators, as well as users, on Web 2.0 is rising. The result is skyrocketing global data traffic. US network specialist Cisco Systems expects a prolific increase in monthly data traffic from about 7 exabytes in 2008 to about 44 exabytes by 2012. (One exabyte equals 1018 bytes.)
For this reason, many countries see an opportunity for economic growth in the expansion of broadband Internet: New jobs, locational advantages for businesses and rural communities, innovative broadband services, and improvement of the quality of life should stimulate the economy. A wide choice of technologies such as satellite links, wireless networks, and DSL are available to realize this goal. Which is the best solution? "Fiber optic connector technologies are the ultimate in broadband technologies if the highest bandwidths are to satisfy stringent quality requirements," says a strategy paper of the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. But the capital costs for providing a nationwide fiber optic infrastructure are high. The Internet revolution will not come about overnight, but it appears inevitable over the long term. "The question is not whether, but when," says Dr. Hans-Jürgen Höne, director of Advanced Silanes at Evonik Industries, with conviction. The sector has also received fresh impetus from the German government's second stimulus package for the economy: Expansion of broadband networks is among the specific measures proposed to counteract the economic crisis.
More than just a chemical
There are only about three dozen producers of fiber optic cables in the world-and almost all of them shop at Evonik. The Group is a global leader in the production of chlorosilanes, the most important raw material for manufacturing optical fibers. Evonik markets the chlorosilane silicon tetrachloride (STC) under the name SIRIDION® throughout the world. The clear, colorless liquid is produced from silicon and hydrogen chloride. The advantage here is that silicon is available in virtually unlimited quantities, unlike the copper that is required for DSL.
Visually indistinguishable from water, SIRIDION® STC has a remarkable attribute: Its purity exceeds 99.9999 percent, which is key for the quality and performance of optical fibers. Even the minutest amounts of impurities adversely affect the photoconductivity of the fibers and therefore the distance that light can travel within the fiber.
The core of the fiber consists of two glass layers and is so fine as to be barely visible with the naked eye. The glass core is enveloped in two plastic sheaths that lend the fiber stability. To produce the glass, the silicon tetrachloride is vaporized and converted to silicon dioxide. The resulting silicon dioxide dust is then fused to give transparent quartz glass, from which the ultrathin fibers are drawn and wound on a drum. Subsequently, a transmitter converts the electrical signals into light signals, which speed through the cable. Last year alone saw the manufacture of 150 million kilometers of glass fiber.
"SIRIDION® is more than just a chemical product," says Sebastian Wandel, a marketing assistant at Advanced Silanes. "Training our customers is an integral part of our services." Even the slightest exposure to air leads to severe rusting in transport containers and production plants. For this reason, only trained employees are allowed to arrange and dispatch transport. "And we're always working on new and improved types of SIRIDION® that optimize our customers' products," adds Wandel.
The bandwidth of broadband
While other broadband technologies do exist, performance varies, and many are simply not fast enough. Satellite links and UMTS, for example, are significantly slower than DSL. Wireless networks like W-LAN are sufficiently fast but, in the words of Höne, "It would be a mistake to think that wide-range broadband connections could be set up by wireless alone. The range of radio towers is extremely limited, and only the last few hundred meters could be covered by wireless. And how are the radio towers linked?
By fiber optic cables, of course."
The technology that currently looks the most promising is VDSL or its extension VDSL 2, a combination of optical fiber technology and conventional DSL. VDSL exploits the advantages of both technologies: the super-fast transmission of fiber optics and the existing copper infrastructure. In this combo technology, the optical fibers are the main arteries, with the copper cables bridging only the last few hundred meters, so that speed losses remain relatively small.
The German government is already predicting that fiber optics will replace copper networks over the long term. And Höne is also firmly convinced of this: "We're looking at a big boom here."
More information is available at www.SIRIDION.com
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