Each year, before I write about events of the previous year and possibilities for the year just begun, I review my old columns to see what has changed. As I read last year’s column, I found myself nodding, yep, that’s about the same this year and that and that, too. Not that last year was uneventful, especially in finance and politics, but even with all the turmoil, some things seem to have not changed very much.
Fiber to the home (FTTH) continues its march across the world. Here in the United States, Verizon not only continued expanding the coverage of its FiOS FTTH systems, but it admitted last fall that it was abandoning the copper landline connection to the home in favor of fiber optics. Between Verizon, independent telcos and municipalities, more than 5 million homes in the United States have been connected with fiber, and 15 percent of all homes have FTTH available. However, it will take quite a few more years before fiber replaces the majority of landlines.
Other telcos, as well as Verizon, are emphasizing their wireless networks as customers continue to abandon landlines for wireless service. Now the emphasis is on delivering broadband services over wireless, which is the same emphasis as wired (or in many cases “fibered”) networks. However delivery of more wireless bandwidth requires more bandwidth to cell phone towers, which is delivered over fiber optics.
Having attended one of the government broadband stimulus meetings and after interviewing many attendees, I learned that all this planned broadband access will be connected over a fiber optic network. The stimulus money is starting to drive fiber network installations around the country, keeping many contractors and installers busy.
In some areas, such as where I live in California, FTTH activity has dropped off due to the massive decrease in new home construction. However, many fiber contractors I know still are busy, mainly working on municipal networks that include video surveillance cameras, smart traffic networks and educational networks, for which federal funds, including Department of Homeland Security and stimulus funds, still are available.
Last year, I mentioned that premises cabling was changing, as enterprise networks moved to a preference for connecting laptops using wireless instead of using desktop PCs connected with Category 5e or Cat 6 wire. That movement has continued, but cabling sales have dropped precipitously because of the economy, declining 25–30 percent for the year. The ratification of the Wi-Fi 803.11n standard helped sales of the fastest versions of Wi-Fi, which make wireless performance on a par with typical wired desktops.
Pundits continue to predict the demise of copper, but the industry continues to struggle to catch up. Within data centers, 10 gigabit connections are the norm, and copper can claim performance adequate for those applications. But just as facilities managers and owners get their act together for 10G, links are going to 40G and 100G, and the process starts all over again. Fiber manufacturers, meanwhile, started selling OM4 laser-optimized fiber with twice as much bandwidth as OM3 fiber, aimed at the premises 40G and 100G applications.
Copper got another setback with the new power over Ethernet (POE) standards. Last year, manufacturers were promising 60W over unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) cable, but when the standards committee rationally considered the power they could send over small UTP wires, they dropped down to about 25W for the new 802.3at standard. Whether this will be adequate for applications, such as Wi-Fi 802.11n access points, is still open to question.
The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) TR-42 premises cabling standards committees did get revisions for TIA-568C completed. A lot of the work was including tack-on technical service bulletins (TSBs) that accumulate over the five-year lifecycle of a standard, such as adding in augmented Cat 6 cable. Late in the year, the TR-48.8 committee began considering the age-old standard for connector loss, 0.75 dB, set when fiber was first included in TIA-568. Today’s connectors are much better, of course, but a bigger concern is that a TIA-568-compliant cable plant with 0.75 dB connectors will not support some of the networks referenced in TIA-568 annexes. We hope that gets serious consideration, since we first brought it to their attention more than 5 years ago!
Personally, the biggest challenge for me last year was heading the task of creating the largest technical Web site for fiber optics and premises cabling (www.foaguide.org) and turning it into a published book. Whew! I need a rest.
HAYES is a VDV writer and educator and the president of The Fiber Optic Association. Find him at www.JimHayes.com.