What Is Radio over Fiber?

Mary McMahon

Radio over fiber is a wireless communication technology where radio signals sent by equipment to base stations modulate a light, transmitting optical data. The data moves through fiber to access telecommunications hubs. Returning signals coming in the other direction go through the base station, which emits radio waves for equipment to pick up. This method provides a number of advantages over cable-based wireless communications where users plug a router into a phone line or coaxial cable to access the Internet and other networking services.

Woman holding a disc
Woman holding a disc

One advantage to using radio over fiber is the superior speed and data capacity. Traditional broadband infrastructure struggles to meet communications needs, especially in outdated buildings with older wiring systems. Fiber doesn't have the same limitations. It can increase the speed of communications and allow for much higher data capacity, which can be important in areas with high demand for wireless service. Office buildings and dense residential clusters typically have high bandwidth needs and growing customer numbers to consider in telecommunications infrastructure decisions.

It is also easier to secure a radio over fiber system, which can be important for users. Companies may handle sensitive information they do not want to release inadvertently over a poorly secured network. Individual consumers may have concerns about identity theft and other security issues. These systems reduce the risk of breaches and provide more security options. They also tend to have a longer range, which provides more flexibility.

Implementation of radio over fiber can be expensive. Such systems require telecommunications companies to lay optical fiber all the way to the base station used by the customer. Fiber installation is costly, especially for small consumers. Some researchers with an interest in this topic have explored options like plastic fiber and do it yourself optical fiber installations to cut costs for consumers who want a radio over fiber network but cannot afford the necessary infrastructure.

Both intermediate frequency (IF) and radio frequency (RF) technology can be used with radio over fiber installations. The best choice can depend on the system and the telecommunications company. Such communications links can provide high speed, long range communications of excellent quality. They also leave room for expansion, an important consideration for telecommunications companies that must factor in future demands when they develop new infrastructure. A system with low data capacity and speed limitations can quickly become useless for consumers who expect to maintain or increase speeds even as they increase their bandwidth loads.

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