WIPP logo with a radiant blue and white background
Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management Visits WIPP
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A Year of Progress
January 31, 2022

Weaving the Fiber (Optics) of WIPP

It’s been a long pull to upgrade the backbone of the communications system at WIPP.

Workers will pull more than 137,000 feet of new fiber-optic line cable through conduit to connect WIPP buildings, including the Central Monitoring Room, to computer servers.

The fiber-optic network, currently about 90 percent complete, promises to make the WIPP system faster, more reliable and more secure. All that remains is to connect the cable inside site buildings.

The new cable won’t increase internet speed. It will boost performance of the site intranet, or internal network, between computers and servers because of the upgrade to single-mode, higher-bandwidth fiber, as well as to faster switches.

WIPP employee runs fiber-optic cable
Ali Martinez pulls a length of fiber-optic cable as part of the installation process of more than 137,000 feet of cable at the WIPP site.

WIPP has been operating on 10/100 Ethernet switches — that means a data transfer rate of 10 megabits per second to 100 megabits per second. The new switches are the latest standard, known as gigabit Ethernet, which is 1,000 megabits (or 1 gigabit) per second.

First developed in the 1970s, optical fiber is a flexible, transparent fiber made by drawing glass or plastic to a diameter slightly thinner than a human hair.

Fiber-optic technology transmits information — such as phone, TV and internet services — as pulses of light through the strands. An outer layer known as “cladding” wraps around the central strand and causes light to repeatedly bounce off the walls of the cable rather than leak out at the edges, enabling the signal to go farther.

Fiber optic is preferred because of its higher data transfer rates (wider bandwidth) and transmission over longer distances (60 miles without in-line signal repeaters).

Fiber optic is 20 times faster than cable. It is immune to electromagnetic interferences; has high electrical resistance so it can be used near high-voltage equipment; is lighter weight; and is difficult to tap — important in a high-security environment.

Fiber-optic has revolutionized the telecommunications industry and has played a major role in the advent of the Information Age. Because of its advantages over electrical data transmission, optical fibers have largely replaced copper wire communication in backbone networks in the developed world.