The concept of light pulses carrying information through fiber has so fundamentally changed communications of all kinds, it probably is an insulting understatement to say merely that the man who introduced the concept to the world has been a "positive contributor" to the structured cabling industry. But certainly not as insulting as it would be to leave Charles K. Kao off the list. Kao received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2009 "for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication."
An autobiographical essay on the nobelprize.org website allows Kao to tell his own story. In it, he recalls the 1966 paper published in IEE Proceedings and titled "Dielectric-fibre Surface Waveguides for Optical Frequencies." "This research," Kao reflects, "was to spawn a whole new industry over the next 20 years."
Kao further remembers, "I had been working since graduation [from Woolwich Polytechnic nine years earlier] on microwave transmissions. The theories and limitations were ground into my brain. I knew we needed much more bandwidth and thoughts of how it could be done were constantly in my mind."
Recalling other failed attempts to transmit light through glass-"Light passing through a rod of glass just fades out to nothing after a very short distance"-Kao says he "played around with what was causing the failure of light to penetrate glass. With the invention of the laser in the 1950s and subsequent developments, there was an ideal source of light that could send out pulses of light in a digital stream of noughts and ones."
He says he is often asked if the idea came to him in an "a-ha" moment. It did not. "Ideas do not always come in a flash, but by diligent trial-and-error experiments that take time and thought."
Time and thought that have enabled the communications industry of which structured cabling is one part.