Switch to 50-micron multimode in full swing

August 6, 2004 Nashua, NH -- Led in part by the growing popularity of laser-optimized cabling to accommodate gigabit-speed traffic, the multimode cabling market is seeing an evolution from 62.5-micron to 50-micron multimode cabling. Vendor sources expect this trend to continue for the next several years as the number of new builds grows, reports Editorial Director Stephen Hardy.

Aug 6th, 2004

August 6, 2004 Nashua, NH -- Led in part by the growing popularity of laser-optimized cabling to accommodate gigabit-speed traffic, the multimode cabling market is seeing an evolution from 62.5-micron to 50-micron multimode cabling. Vendor sources expect this trend to continue for the next several years as the number of new builds grows.

According to sources contacted for an article on laser-optimized multimode cabling that will appear in Lightwave's September issue, 50-micron cable has gone from a niche technology to a major source of revenue. KMI Research estimates that 50-micron will compose half of the world market for multimode cabling by 2005. The hottest markets for 50-micron multimode are North America and Asia, where a growing number premises network designers face backbone requirements of 1 to 10 Gbits/sec.

"The value proposition of 50-micron as a workhorse multimode fiber in North America is finally sinking in," says Beni Blell, fiber-optic product business manager at Berk-Tek, a Nexans company. "Basically, 50-micron delivers significantly higher bandwidth and considerably better distance guarantees for both Gigabit Ethernet and 10-gig, at a much more competitive price, than 62.5. And the 10-gig solution has been the prime driver for the very fast replacement of 62.5 in the North American market."

However, cabling suppliers have found 62.5-micron multimode cabling tough to dislodge when network planners look to extend existing networks. "Where we see people looking at [50-micron cabling] is if they are doing a total renovation of a building, or they're creating a new building, or they're building a new data center," reports David Hall, marketing manager, private networks, at Corning Cable Systems. The difficulty of mating 62-micron cabling with 50-micron -- and an unwillingness to stock two sets of spare connectors and other parts -- leads many network managers to stick with 62.5-micron multimode when dealing with an existing infrastructure, several sources say.

Yet for new buildings or where electronics need to be upgraded anyway, 50-micron cabling, particularly the new laser-optimized varieties, have shown increasing popularity. "You look at the healthcare industry, definitely the financial services industry -- they have been very much heavy adopters of the laser-optimized fiber," Hall says. "Where we do not really see it is in school districts necessarily or department of transportation [or] municipalities."

"I would say that the market as a whole needs to do a better job of educating the end user as to what the differences are," offers Kurt Templeman, product manager, enterprise networks, Sumitomo Electric Lightwave, in discussing customer perceptions of 50-micron versus 62-micron offerings. "That premium that you do pay for [laser-optimized 50-micron] buys you an awful lot of bandwidth capacity that simply is not there in the 62.5 arena. And people need to understand that."

"The optimistic sign we see is that [laser-optimized 50-micron multimode] has started to filter into distribution," says Mike Connaughton, fiber-optic sales manager at Mohawk, a Belden CDT company. "We get an order and I don't know where it's going. So I take that as a sign that the market in general is applying it, and people are just asking for it on specifications to a certain extent blind to me. So it's getting done out there, and the pull through is happening."

However, laser-optimized multimode will probably remain a minority technology for the next several years. "I think it's going to increase," predicts Tim Waldner, senior vice president of marketing, Superior Essex, of laser-optimized cable sales. "Whether or not it ever overtakes standard 50 micron, I guess I have my doubts there."

-- S. Hardy

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