Walking And Learning: Take a Look at Fiber Optics Around You

I like to walk. Always have. It's low-impact, highly effective exercise that keeps you healthy and, if you keep your eyes open, helps you learn about what's happening in the world around you.

Of course, I live in an area that invites walking, Santa Monica, CA, a rare urban area in car-centric Southern California. Santa Monica is also unique in having what is likely the world's most advanced municipal network, a high fiber count backbone installed over the last 15 years that operates at 100 gigabits per second.

Santa Monica City Net Handhole Cover


We actually learned about Santa Monica City Net while walking around. They advertise to business on the sides of city buses!

Santa Monica took advantage of government grants for education, transportation and security to build its fiber network without taxing its citizens. It has built an extensive intelligent traffic system (ITS) on the backbone to help mitigate the notorious SoCal traffic problems. It has surveillance cameras all over the city for safety and connects fire and police facilities. Its schools and libraries are connected and outfitted with adequate computers for everyone's use. A city Wi-Fi network—two, in fact, one for citizens and one for city-only use—provides wireless coverage in most areas.

Smart Traffic Signal Being Installed


Somewhat disappointing is the traditional phone, cellular and CATV coverage, none of which is the fault of the city. The NIMBY (not in my backyard) factor has stopped cellular providers from installing adequate cell sites. Coverage at our place, less than 10 blocks from the downtown area, was so bad that, at one time, our cellular service provider gave us a "picocell" that allowed our cell phones to use our Internet to make calls. The advent of "small cells" is changing that. Small cells are cropping up on streetlights and traffic signal poles around town and, in many areas where we walk, we've gone from one bar to four bars of coverage. Santa Monica has set aside 600 permits for small cells in our town of just under 10 square miles, one of the highest-density small-cell networks we've heard of yet.

Crown Castle putting in a fiber drop for small cells.


Phone service in Santa Monica used to be fabulous. It was one of the first cities to get Verizon FiOS fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) service using fibers leased from the city and drops on the alleys, including the one behind our building. Unfortunately, our building turned down FiOS, so we never got connected, and Verizon sold the phone system to a smaller phone company that's still struggling to catch up with the operations requirements here. No new FiOS FTTH connections are available.

What can I say about CATV? Nothing that has not been said before or covered in customer satisfaction surveys. But they do have a hybrid fiber coaxial (HFC) network with cable modem internet available, although it appears the system is overloaded and certainly does not give the speeds we are paying for.

A contractor for the CATV system adds drops for new customers.


Santa Monica uses its fiber wisely. Its high speed connections, which are available to the many movie studios and tech companies in the city, are a major reason they are here. Google and Yahoo are the big guys, but many tech startups, gaming companies, and animation houses and about 50 movie studios have locations here. In the past, movie "rushes" viewed by the executives daily were on film, then videotape, hard drives driven back to the studios from the sound stages. Today it's done by direct fiber connections over networks like Santa Monica City Net.

Movie studio fiber optic connections


Right now, we're trying to see if we can get a City Net fiber connection ourselves, either for our business or for the Fiber Optic Association (FOA), which we run out of our condo. It's a virtual organization, so a good Internet connection is all we need. Hopefully, this will work so we can meet another friendly tech like this guy installing a new drop down the street from us.

Tech installing drop on Santa Monica City Net


As we visit areas of Los Angeles, we see more interesting new tech being installed. L.A. has been doing field trials of smart lights like a Philips smart LED streetlight that includes Ericsson small cells. But the wildest one we've seen yet is this one near the La Brea Tar Pits. It was recently installed and still had protective wrap on the base. The only clue to its purpose was the flag saying "LA.SMART.NODE." 

Photo of En-Hub Smart.Node


We tracked down the manufacturer, Ene-Hub in Australia, through an article on a local radio station website whose author had also stumbled on the site. Ene-Hub, installed this Smart Node in L.A. at the invitation of the City of L.A.’s Bureau of Street Lighting.

Starting from the top down, the pole has a beacon on top, LED street lighting inside the pole with a clear window, not the usual arm hanging off the pole, a section to hold Wi-Fi access points inside the pole, positions for surveillance cameras and/or other sensors and on the base a charging station for electric vehicles.

The Smart Node, according to Ene-Hub’s director Robert Matchett, is “the first ground up pole that deals with all smart city functions in an integrated way.” By this he means “smart city functionality like 4G and 5G network capacity, Wi-Fi, smart controlled LED lighting, electric vehicle car charging, public address speakers (in the case of an emergency or natural disasters), help points, USB charging ports and CCTV cameras are all accommodated inside the node without equipment hanging off the outside.”

Perhaps unique to the Ene-hub is its use indoors as well as outdoors, for example in the Sydney airport to provide lights, communications, security and other functions for airport visitors.

You just never know what you will stumble across when you keep your eyes open.

About the Author

Jim Hayes

Fiber Optics Columnist and Contributing Editor
Jim Hayes is a VDV writer and trainer and the president of The Fiber Optic Association. Find him at www.JimHayes.com .

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