Industry looks to open additional connector standards

May 1, 1998

Industry looks to open additional connector standards

By STEPHEN HARDY

While debate continues over the Telecommunications Industry Association TR-41.8.1 Working Group`s decision not to add the mt-rj small-form connector to current or future tia/eia-568 standards, several members of the industry see the poll results as the latest example of a general trend toward open standards. If these industry representatives have their way, this trend will continue.

As discussed elsewhere in this issue (see "tia lets the market decide" on page 44), the 568SC duplex connector remains the standard fiber-optic interface at the wall outlet in premises applications. If current working group initiatives are any indication, it seems likely that interfaces behind the wall will be open to connectors that have the necessary Fiber Optic Connector Intermateability Standards (focis) documents and that can demonstrate performance and reliability characteristics that meet standard specifications. This means that the five small-form connectors that fought for standardization within the TR-41.8.1 Working Group--the mt-rj, proposed by a team of amp Inc. (Harrisburg, PA), Siecor Corp. (Hickory, NC), Hewlett-Packard Co. (Palo Alto, CA), usconec (Hickory, NC), and Fujikura Ltd. (Tokyo); the VF-45 from 3M Telecom Systems Div. (Austin, TX); the Optispeed LC from Lucent Technologies (Murray Hill, NJ); Panduit Corp.`s (Orland Park, IL) Fiber-Jack (marketed as the opti-jack); and the scdc/scqc from ibm (Poughkeepsie, NY), Siecor, and Siemens Corp. (Berlin)--will now fight each other again for premises market acceptance everywhere but at the wall outlet.

This arrangement is not unprecedented. Copper standards for the same applications work the same way--the 8-pin modular jack is the standard premises wall interface for copper, and a variety of connectors compete elsewhere on the premises. Other standards bodies, such as the International Electrotechnical Commission (iec), have followed this path as well, according to Jeff George, a systimax fiber offer manager in the Network Products Group of Lucent Technologies (Norcross, GA).

"The open format has worked well with the international standards community in the iec-11801. That`s what they adopted, basically allowing any connector that meets the performance requirements in the network, and then at the desk outlet, in order to provide stability and continuity for the lay end-user, they specified the SC connector," he reports.

The atm Forum also is expected to announce multiple small-form connectors as approved for Asynchronous Transfer Mode (atm) applications. These connectors are said to include the mt-rj, VF-45, LC, and opti-jack. Thus, the TR-41.8.1 Working Group`s decision is reasonable within the context of the announcements made by other standards bodies, George believes.

"The recent tia decision lowers what had previously been a barrier for all the small-form connector manufacturers and that had been somewhat of a barrier for the LC, which was not being standardized in the building-wiring standard," he says. "So we`re now standardizing the building-wiring standard both domestically and internationally, and atm has set a precedent within the application standards by now opening the standard to multiple small-form connectors. And we hope Gigabit Ethernet will also follow suit."

The Gigabit Ethernet working groups selected the SC as its standard connector in March 1997. However, it seems reasonable to assume that the small-form connector manufacturers will ask the Gigabit Ethernet community to revisit that decision in the near future.

"With the precedents that have been set by the other application standards and wiring standards, I`d be surprised if they didn`t move in the direction of allowing a choice of interfaces while requiring a specific performance to meet the requirements of Gigabit Ethernet," George offers. "So I think that Gigabit Ethernet is going to focus more on the performance of the connections and a little bit less on the physical interface. Based on the other precedents that have been set, they won`t specify just one interface."

Meanwhile, don`t think that TR-41.8.1 has heard the last of the small-form connectors, either. Having opened the field behind the wall, some manufacturers reason, why not open the wall to multiple technologies as well?

"There is a growing amount of support, at least that we see, and we support this idea, that even at the wall outlet it probably should be open at this point," reports Rick Akins, fiber-optic product manager at Panduit Corp. (Orland Park, IL). "Because the benefits that you`re gaining from these small RJ-45-size connectors, which all five of these connectors are, the main benefit really is at the outlet. So why would you require some of these big, bulky SC connectors that end-users are not familiar with at the outlet and then say, `Do whatever you want behind there`?"

"I don`t see the duplex SC going to stand in the U.S.," offers Dennis Mazaris of consulting firm PerfectSite (Sterling, VA). "Maybe internationally, it`ll continue to go on--but as everyone knows, it really didn`t hit too big here, anyway. The ST was more of a de facto standard than the SC."

George agrees that the advent of the small-form connectors means the days of the SC are numbered. "Oh I do, definitely. It will take years, but to a large degree, they will begin replacing the SC," he says. "There`s no doubt that, evolving over the next five years or so, there will be a large shift in the market."

If these prognostications hold true, whichever small-form connector proves itself in the marketplace will undoubtedly be knocking on the door of TR-41.8.1. "I think that that`s going to be the next big argument at the tia," Akins predicts. "There are arguments on both sides of the issue, I`m sure, but that`s the direction the group is starting to move toward."

Battle-hardened by a few years of fighting its civil wars behind the wall outlet, the small-form connector would make a formidable adversary against the 568SC in a second clash. This would particularly be the case if the small-form technology fulfills its promise and finally begins to drive fiber across horizontal applications in the manner the industry has awaited for so long. q

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