Fiber "future-proofs" the network

Fiber "future-proofs" the network

George Kotelly

Executive Editor

georgek@pennwell.com

At the SuperComm `96 telecommunications trade show held in Dallas last June, "Fiber future-proofs the network" served as the title of a viewgraph supplied by Paul Shumate, Bellcore executive director, broadband local access and premises networks, in his talk at the fiber-optic primer session, "Fiber Networks--What Are the Options?" Indeed, the phrase was heard repeatedly during show floor meetings, paper presentations and company interviews. And it also appears several times in this month`s Lightwave Special Report articles on "Fiber-in-the-loop Equipment and Networks."

According to Shumate, the technical advantages of connecting fiber to the home (Ftth), especially its capacity to transmit high bandwidths at low losses, "future-proofs" the network against the sharp rise in bandwidth needs expected soon for delivering interactive multimedia services. He advises that Ftth is the best long-term network solution when upgrade cost factors are considered. In fact, Shumate says, the first-cost installation premium of Ftth over other alternatives has narrowed to perhaps a few hundred dollars, and, in some cases, Ftth can be installed at first-cost parity (see page 52).

The technical merits of installing fiber-optic networks to the home have been understood for years. But they have been assessed by the communications marketplace as too expensive to install, test, use and maintain. For nearly 20 years, though, telephone companies and cable-TV operators around the world have weighed initial costs against the fiber attributes of lifetime operation, capacity, reliability and growth, and have opted to wire their communications backbone and feeder networks with fiber-optic cables.

But, the final fiber link to the user--the connection from the neighborhood optical node to the home, business, building or desktop--has continued to be burdened by the high-cost image. Users have rightfully demanded that the costs of all-fiber-optic networks be comparable to coaxial-cable and copper-wire connections.

N. D`Arcy Roche, vice president and general manager, premises systems and services, at AMP Inc., claims that the installation of an all-fiber-optic network in a single building contributes to the centralization of all network electronics in one electronics closet, thereby decreasing network costs and improving network management. The company`s cost analyses indicate that over the lifetime of a network, fiber-optic cables and parts provide a savings of as much as $175 per drop after the first year, based on lower network management overhead and fewer equipment outages, and more than $620 per drop at the end of five years (see page 63).

At SuperComm, a notable fiber-future-proof trend was the product positioning by several exhibiting companies. For example, Reltec Corp. promotes its Matrix interactive multimedia access platform as allowing today`s service providers to evolve economically in providing future voice, video and data services. Reltec President and Chief Executive Dudley P. Sheffler says, "Because the Matrix system is modular, network providers can upgrade progressively as customers demand additional services. This means providers can transition smoothly and cost-effectively from existing network maintenance to new system upgrades without the need for significant incremental investment." The common Matrix platform operates with a mix of optional multimedia access shelves and distribution media, allowing network providers the flexibility to meet customers` current and future application requirements.

As an example of a company that prioritizes technical capabilities over cost barriers, Optical Solutions Inc., a two-year-old company in Bermidji, MN, introduced at SuperComm its broadband Ftth network architecture for low-density rural installations. Called the SL2 (Simply Logical) platform, the network delivers interactive voice, data and video services by connecting an inexpensive single fiber cable from an optical network unit via the company`s weatherproof, Universal Demarcation Point, optical-to-electrical interface box mounted on an outside house wall to the subscriber`s home copper wiring. Three rural telephone companies are using the company`s products in field trials to deliver broadband services; current costs run about $1400 to $2000 per home. Craig Mead, vice president and cofounder of Optical Solutions, declares, "Optical fiber has the capacity, security, safety and maintenance characteristics to deliver today`s services and prepare communications companies for the high-speed interactive future."

Based on industry trends, the pioneering companies that invest in high-capacity Ftth networks capable of adjusting to both short- and long-term communications service requirements will play the leadership roles in this evolving and highly competitive marketplace. q

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