What's it going to take?
Eric Pearson, president of Pearson Technologies Inc. (Acworth, GA), consultant, trainer, and general friend of all things fiber optic, recently visited our offices for a chat. According to Pearson, three things will have to happen before we see fiber going to the desktop.
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First, network planners must take a closer look at the cost of their wiring closets. When using a collapsed fiber backbone architecture, closet costs can be an indicator of how economical fiber will be. Granted, no two closets are alike; however, Pearson said that if application requirements demand a $20,000 investment as part of either a copper or fiber architecture, managers will find that the fiber architecture will start making sense. At the $30,000 level, fiber becomes a 50/50 proposition versus copper. And at $40,000, network managers will find that the economics of the rest of the architecture will favor fiber.
The final two factors are related: the lack of 100Base-SX small-form-factor switches and the in sistence by certain hub and switch manufacturers to charge unreasonable premiums for fiber-based equipment. Somehow, LAN equipment manufacturers have to become at least "fiber-neutral" and make a range of reasonably priced fiber-optic equipment available.
As I reported last April in this space (see Lightwave, April 2001, page 25), fiber doesn't have a lot of friends in high places at the major LAN equipment vendors. The reasons my sources cited included a belief that fiber capacity wasn't necessary for most applications, the expense of creating fiber-friendly versions of existing copper-based equipment, and the lack of demand from their customer base.
This last factor will have to change before anything else happens. But the fiber industry is in a Catch-22 position. Customers won't demand more optical equipment from vendors until they're convinced of the benefits of fiber. And they're unlikely to be convinced until the vendor community offers cheaper, more numerous products.
Clearly, the optical industry will have to find a few pioneers willing to become fiber evangelists in the premises-and back up that message with economical equipment that can compete with the big boys. Companies like 3M have begun to make this investment. But others will have to follow before fiber becomes more than just a backbone medium.
On another note: Behold the more space-efficient Lightwave! This past summer, we conducted a reader survey, and nearly 70% of the respondents said we should shrink the magazine. That was enough for us. How's that for customer service?