Making a place for fiber alongside UTP:

There’s an ongoing debate between structured cabling/unshielded twisted pair (UTP) and fiber optics; which method is better depends on the application. For large, data-hauling applications, nothing beats optical fiber. However, there’s still a place for UTP, and it also provides a high-performance method of connectivity.

For 10 gigabits per second (10Gbps) Ethernet applications, UTP systems continue to improve. For example, Hubbell Premise Wiring, Milford, Conn., and Superior Essex Inc., Atlanta, recently announced that Intertek/ETL Semko independently tested the Hubbell/Superior Essex 10G UTP cabling system to the latest 10Gps TIA/EIA 568-B.2-10 Augmented Category 6, Draft 5.0 transmission performance requirements. The test verified the copper-based, unshielded cabling system complies to this latest industry performance standard.

Fiber optics deployment is growing for both commercial and residential applications. Here as well, UTP and coaxial are deployed on the inside, with the optical connectivity reaching from the telephone company’s central offices to the premises.

“Future use of fiber inside the home is expected to be minimal,” said Frank Murawski, president of FTM Consulting Inc., Hummelstown, Pa. Murawski authored the study, “Structured Cabling Systems Market,” which analyzes copper versus fiber cabling shipments and points to significant fiber growth in Ethernet applications. The study also predicted a significant market shift by 2008, as fiber becomes the dominant media for data centers, campus and fiber to the home (FTTH).

“We project that copper UTP cabling will continue to dominate the horizontal cabling subsystem market in the future,” he said. “Fiber-to-the-desk [FTTD] will remain elusive, being a small percentage of the total horizontal cabling subsystem in the future. FTTD will be found mainly in niche applications in which speeds of 10Gbps or higher are required at the workstations. For example, any workstation handling a great deal of video feeds will be the typical application implementing FTTD in the future.”

The study forecasts fiber-cabling shipments to grow from $1.2 billion in 2005, at a rate of 26.3 percent, to $4 billion by 2010. The highest growth application is projected to be data centers.

The security side

“Fiber will be used at network bottlenecks such as data centers,” Murawski said. In security applications, he said, “fiber is used in video surveillance primarily to support longer cable runs—for example, a city’s street camera deterrent system.”

FTTH continues to make significant inroads, and telephone companies have been laying optical cabling from their central offices for a decade or more. Now a provider is needed to extend what the telephone companies have laid to residential customers, and that’s beginning to happen. Verizon recently began its marketing FTTH service, called FiOS Internet, in select areas. FiOS service includes access to newsgroups, up to nine Verizon e-mail accounts, online services and 10 MB of personal Web space. Service perks include online gaming, video chatting such as instant messaging, feature films downloads and CD-quality audio.

Inside the home, structured cabling networks, UTP or coaxial still provides LAN connectivity. Therefore, to implement FiOS, Verizon technicians evaluate the wiring in the home to determine if existing coaxial or special data wiring such as Category 5 can be used. If necessary, they install coaxial or Category 5 runs from an optical fiber network terminal on the outside of the building (like a telephone company network interface but for fiber) to the home’s router.

New alliances in the traditional control and connectivity industries are also developing and boosting fiber market share. Leviton Manufacturing Co., Little Neck, N.Y., recently announced an alliance with AFL Telecommunications, Spartanburg, S.C., to bring the benefits of FTTH service to homeowners. The alliance supports the needs of residential developers and builders seeking to integrate FTTH in multifamily dwellings and master-planned communities.

According to Michael Mattei, Leviton’s director of Fiber Business Development, fiber solutions have yet to be fully integrated into the home. “Typically, fiber enters through the side of the house, but that is where it ends,” he said. Mattei predicted there will be approximately 18 million FTTH subscribers by 2010.

“Once you get fiber to the home, anything inside is possible,” Mattei said. “For short distances, copper still works fantastically. Inside the home, cabling or structured wiring terminates at a central box on the outside of the home where it integrates with optical fiber through an interface.”

Fiber optics can come to the home, but inside, structured cabling is still deployed, providing further evidence that a variety of connectivity scenarios will coexist now and in the future.            EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.