“Optical Communications: from Prehistoric Times to Modern Times”

Prof. Carlo Someda

DATE: 27th August 2018
TIME: 11:15 – 12:15 pm
LOCATION: Rigoni Stern Institute, Asiago

Optical communications have been exploited since pre-historic times. For millennia, fires, smokes, and the like, have conveyed messages at a distance, from humans to other humans. Several masterpieces of ancient Greek literature convey beautiful examples in that sense. But later, optical communications became totally obsolete. Indeed, in the XIX Century, they were looked at as primitive, compared to the then-newly-invented electrical communications: the telegraph, the telephone, the radio. All of a sudden, though, they came back, and took the stage again, but under a completely new form: they made use of laser light, guided by thin glass wires called optical fibers. They became pervasive in a very short period of time. So, one question rises spontaneously: does their success entail that optical fibers were a “mature” invention  (i.e., one of those inventions that had been eagerly sought by several competitors, since a long time) ?  Or rather, were they a sudden, totally unexpected breakthrough ?


If we look at the crucial role that they play nowadays in the Information Society, at the terrific rate at which their networks grew over the last three decades, and at the fact that they are available as a commodity throughout  the world, then, clearly, we incline to answer that they were a mature invention. In reality, though, the right answer is the opposite one: they were an unexpected breakthrough. In the late Sixties and early Seventies of the past century, it took a genius to envisage promptly the potential advantages of optical fibers, to focus sharply on their initial problems, and to show that all those problems could be solved within a short time. And it took also a tough fighter, to convince the rest of the world that optical communications were the way to go. The genius and the fighter were the same person: Charles Kuen Kao, Nobel Prize for Physics in 2009, Doctor Honoris Causa at the University of Padova in Communication Engineering (1996).

  1. Charles K. Kao’s Nobel Lecture. Sand from Centuries Past Send Future Voices Fast. 8th December 2009

2. Brijesh N.chawda, Historical Development of Optical Communication        Systems, Indina Journal of Research, Vol. 4, Issue 4, April 2015