Can I Hear You Now?

Sponsored by dB Levels, Inc.


The question is: since every tweet, text and voice/video call is combined with 32,255 others in the same optical fiber, can I hear your conversation, read your tweet or text, or see what you are viewing on the Internet?  Can I steal your pin? 

Well, the answer is no......and yes.


Although 32,256 people share the same optical fiber and all communication is simultaneous (all calls happen at the same time), the speed of lightwave communications over optical fiber is so fast, it is like a high-speed train carrying passengers a great distance, loading each person into their own car.  Passengers enjoy their own space and unaware of any others along for the ride, as each remains separated from the others.  As a fellow user, I have no control or access to your communications in the fiber optic portion of the system.


Therefore, there is no way for another caller or user to tap into your call or data transmission just because you share the same fiber optic system.  In fact, you have a higher probability of someone merely overhearing you by standing nearby or looking over your shoulder in a crowded train, bus or airplane.

Having said that, there is an old adage that one should never say anything over the phone (land-line wired or cellular), transmit in a text, tweet or email any information that you would not want anyone but the intended party to receive.  Optical Fiber communications systems are complex and secure, but never 100% hack-proof.  Yes, modern systems are immune from amateurs eavesdropping on each other but consider that any system requires occasional maintenance which may include sampling of signal quality by a service technician or engineer.  This is especially true if you have recently reported a trouble with your service, as the line may have to be monitored for quality purposes.

The following is not meant to scare you, but the probability that no one else could hear your conversation, see your tweet, read your email or snoop your web search is always less than 100% for any call, anytime, anywhere.  Service providers do not make sport of listening in on subscriber's conversations.  In fact, any person charged with maintaining telephone, telegraph or wireless communications systems is prohibited by federal law of disclosing any information intercepted during routine maintenance of the system, with one exception; if someone threatens the life of the president, this must be immediately reported to a supervisor and proper authorities.  Dating back to the 1930's, this law is still in effect today.

Therefore, you shouldn't worry about the rare (extremely rare) occurrence where your call is monitored by any one of the multiple carriers that handle your connections.  Consider that when calling from a cellular phone to a "landline" telephone, the call may traverse up to 3 or more networks, depending on the distance between callers.  At any given moment the service providers may have need to perform quality samples which could result in hearing your conversation.  While the age of optical fiber communications has greatly reduced this possibility, it will never erase it completely.

In the early days of cellular communications, it was relatively easy to tune in and monitor voice calls.  However, modern digital cellular networks employ encryption keys that secure the content of the communications channel on the wireless portion of the network.  However, once the call is passed to the optical fiber network, no encryption is generally utilized.

The point of all the above is that you may never, ever be 100% certain your voice, video call, tweet, text, email or Internet session is not open for others to hear or view.  However, this has always been true, so if you have made it to this date unaffected, then likely you will be fine for the rest of your life.  However, I wouldn't be too quick to use a phone to tell a friend where you hid your last million dollars.

The best practice is to utilize any communications, (written, aural or visual) with the knowledge that the content could be available to others.  The risk is remote, but a reality. 

More details available in our free tutorial on Optical Fiber Communications on the Home Page (click Home at above left), or order a 12-inch sample optical fiber for use in the experiments or just to impress your friends.  This is no plastic fake, but real communications-grade glass fiber as used in the cables carrying your calls.  See Order Fiber button at top right of Home Page or click HERE.  The tutorial Lab Experiments alone nearly guaranty you to get an A+ on your next term paper or win the Science Fair!  Please tell your friends about us!

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