By Robert Pease, Lightwave
Air-blown optical fibre (ABF) has become a popular technology almost everywhere outside the USA. Now it has finally beaten the "not invented here" stigma.
Developed by British Telecom in the early 1980s, the process involves the deployment of tube cable in place of traditional innerduct work. Once the cables are in place, fibre is blown through the tubes at 50m/min.
Holding the patent on ABF technology, BT has granted licenses to companies for blowing fibre into structures for LANs and other premises networks. Ericsson Cables AB, Stockholm, has deployed its Ribbonet ABF technology in FTTH projects connecting apartments in residential areas in Hudiksvall, Sundsvall and Stockholm, Sweden (see page 24).
Emtelle International, London, another global provider of ABF systems, agrees that achieving the lowest possible construction costs will be the advantage that propels ABF's acceptance in the USA.
The two companies most responsible for developing ABF awareness in North America are Sumitomo Electric Lightwave and General Cable Technologies Corp.
Sumitomo's FutureFLEX fibre cabling system is the first multi-fibre, bundled air-blown system for LAN applications in North America. It provides microbundles of 6, 12, and 18 fibres in a standard backbone-riser approach as well as fibre pairs to the desktop.
Sumitomo has introduced two new advances: an air-blown aerial cable innovation for its FutureFLEX system and a new generation of tubing, FLEX HP, that reduces friction. Distances of up to 2km per blowing head can be achieved with a total installation capacity of 342 fibres in a 19-tube cable.
Sumitomo and others expect a strong North American market in the next few years for ABF, which fits well with relatively new technologies like passive optical networks.