Optical fibers might get their first overhaul in 50 years.

Series of Tubes

Fiber optic cables have vastly improved our ability to communicate or transmit data over great distances — but a critical flaw has gone unaddressed for the 50-plus years we've used them.

Glass fibers tend to scatter the light-based signals they transmit. But it turns out that replacing the fibers with hollow, air-filled tubes protects the signal, according to research published in the journal Nature Communications on Friday. This improved fiber optic tech could lead to stronger laser technology or even build a better internet.

Remastered Classics

This scattering problem has been an issue for half a century, meaning that fiber optic networks have never been able to live up to their full technical potential.

"Many alternative glass types and waveguide technologies have been investigated since the 1970s to try to solve this problem, all to no avail," study author Francesco Poletti, an optoelectronics researcher from the University of Southampton, said in a press release. "Our findings show that hollow core fibers have the potential to outperform the current optical fibers at various wavelengths used in optical technology today."

Data Caps

Aside from improving the fiber optic technology we already have, like manufacturing lasers or the internet, improving these cables could be necessary as greater chunks of our lives take place online.

"The transmission capacity of optical fibers is so large that we never thought we'd reach the point where we would use it all up," Southampton optoelectronics director David Payne said in the release. "A faster, more reliable internet with larger bandwidth would help us sustain our current levels of online work and socializing and also enable us to take this further in areas like 3-D video conferencing and virtual reality."

READ MORE: Air-filled fiber cables capable of outperforming standard optical fibers [University of Southampton]

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