By Robert D'Addario
"Fiber is coming." This assertion seems like the battle cry for the better part of the last two decades. Why pay attention now? Every year it seems some technology company figures out how to bleed that last bit of extra bandwidth out of twisted pair category cable, so why can't they keep doing that forever? Why invest in the training, skill set and frustration of dealing with fiber?
Well, fiber optic cabling has gotten a whole lot simpler, and UTP (unshielded twisted pair) is getting a whole lot more tedious. Fiber has been around for decades. It is the backbone of our modern connected world. There isn't a phone call we make that doesn't at some point within the communication stream go through a conversion from audio to electrical to light and back again.
Yet the general sentiment in most technology markets outside of datacomm and telecommunications is that fiber is some mythical, difficult-to-work-with medium, and wherever possible try to engineer around its use because why deal with it if you don't have to.
The truth is fiber is easier to work with then you think, with newer solutions for simple terminations.
With Category or UTP infrastructure, the cable is constantly being reinvented or enhanced to accommodate the need for more bandwidth. Look at the last decade, we have gone from Coax, to Cat 5e, to Cat 6, to Cat 6a, to Cat 7, and now on the horizon is Cat 8 (to be released in 2016).
In contrast, fiber optic cable has remained relatively constant in terms of its available bandwidth. What has changed is not the cable but the hardware on each end, which is being enhanced to utilize more bandwidth that is native in the cable. What do you want to replace in just a few years? The cable in the walls or the boxes it is connected to?
Has fiber improved? Yes. Mechanically, fiber is stronger, safer and faster to terminate, which helps integrators overcome all of the mythical hurdles fiber optics have had over the decades.
7 Myths or Misconceptions about Fiber:
- Fiber is difficult to terminate — Busted — A better way of saying this is, "Fiber was difficult to terminate." Previously when working with fiber there was a lot to worry about. It was fragile, you had to limit the amount of exposed glass during the process, the shards of glass were dangerous. Fiber was a pain, and it truly could be painful. It was also a skill that took hours if not days of training and practice to get proficient at. Cleerline SSF has removed every one of these challenges. You can now say terminating fiber with SSF is easier than any Category or Coax solution available today.
- Fiber is fragile (pull & bend) — Busted — Fiber is stronger and more durable then you can imagine -- 225lbs/102kg short-term load on pull compared to Category's 25lbs/11.3kg. The minimum bend radius can be 8mm during pulling vs. 60+mm for Category. Fiber can be much more forgiving than coax or Category cables.
- Fiber termination requires extensive training — Busted — Companies like Cleerline can successfully train Installers over the phone while they are at a job site to terminate fiber to Fiber Optic Association standards.
- Fiber termination tools are expensive — Busted — You get what you pay for but economical solutions are available. To terminate fiber you do need tools, just like to terminate Category correctly you need tools, and tools cost money, but this is a onetime investment of between $500 to $1,000 that will pay for itself for years to come.
- All equipment that utilizes fiber is expensive — Depends — Are fiber hardware components more expensive than copper equivalents? For the most part yes they are, but by how much? There is a better way of expressing this. We have found solutions in the market that range between 10% to 20% more in cost but that amount can easily be made up for by not having to replace the cable in the walls within the next 5 years to accommodate the bandwidth requirements of your customer.
- Fiber infrastructures are totally different than copper — Busted — No. The various parts and pieces are pretty similar. Wall plates, in-wall components, wall boxes, patch cables, etc. are all available… Fiber connectivity is a very well developed market place and there are lot of solutions available. The topography or layout is very similar to Category UTP infrastructures.
- Fiber is not really needed — Depends"— Can you engineer around fiber today? Yes, you can. Should you? No, you shouldn't. The reality is in order to transmit 4k2k 60hz 4.4.4., a system will require a 18Gps link. Will there be solutions to accommodate that in the near future over copper? Yes, but they will initially be two Cat 6 or 6a cables that will have distance limitations. Quickly approaching on the horizon is a 40Gps link, and at that level every system will require Cat 7 (not a TIA specification) or Cat 8 the next TIA certified cable solution.
Robert DAddario is president of Cleerline Technology Group, developer of SSF fiber optic cables with a simple termination process.