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Extending Fiber’s Reach

For us, the smart building begins with the central nervous system, and if the passive optical network is the central nervous system, it allows for higher levels of connectivity and performance.


June 28, 2019  


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fiberAs the discussion around more connectivity options within next-generation smart buildings continues to grow, the question of maximizing a site’s core networking infrastructure with fiber optic cabling is gaining more attention.

APOLAN, the association for passive optical LAN, is a non-profit group advocating for greater education and global adoption of fiber-based networks for the local area network marketplace. We spoke with Mario Blandini, head of marketing with California-based DZS (DASAN Zhone Solutions), and chair of the marketing committee for APOLAN about why now is the time for passive optical LAN (POL).

What is the argument for introducing POL into a building?

Passive optical LAN is about using fiber instead of copper cabling, and a big difference is that the light travels over long distances, so one lightweight cable carries the traffic of what might be hundreds of pounds of cables needed to run between two locations.

And in the building industry, any time you can take weight out of a building, you make it greener—the heavier it is, and the more material you have to use, the more carbon footprint you have.

Why is fiber ideal for smart buildings?

The idea of fiber and smart buildings have gone together for quite some time. The biggest thing driving smart buildings is IoT, and IoT crosses with security, building automation, and telecom, so now data needs to travel across a lot of different points in a building, where it never used to travel before. Fiber makes sense to handle that density of data.

The average smart building operator is being asked to maximize the utilization of their space and handle a growing number of connected devices, not only IoT sensors but the number of devices each employee has (a smartphone, tablet and a computer).

For us, the smart building begins with the central nervous system, and if the passive optical network is the central nervous system, it allows for higher levels of connectivity and performance, that easily goes from 1- to 10- to 40-Gb going forward. Today, every time you do a speed bump in copper you typically have to change the copper cable, and think about that disruption in a building.

A lot of our opportunities today comes from building owners who are at the point where they have to rip out all of their cables anyway.

What’s holding back a broader adoption of POL in buildings?

The biggest con from the past was price and complexity, those are no longer issues. The value proposition wasn’t as great five years ago, but as demand has risen with data centres adopting fibre, it’s driving volumes up on the components and infrastructure and that’s bringing the overall cost down.

There are varying degrees of fiber, and the one that has come down in price the most is single-mode. Single versus multi-mode, means it can be used in fewer applications, so therefore it’s rated to do less. But if you purchase single-mode today, it can carry 1-Gb, 10-Gb, 40-Gb, 100-Gb, so what you do, instead of swapping out the cable you simply swap out the electronics on either side.

Power over Ethernet (PoE) is gaining traction, so does fiber connect with PoE devices?

In PoE today, the switch that’s in your server closet 100 ft. away drives the power all 100 ft. across that copper cable. And that switch has a port for every connection. With a passive optical LAN switch, it would have a fiber running from it to another device to terminate that fiber, in classic terms it’s called an optical network terminal (ONT), or a port extender. The thing about an ONT is that one fiber can drive four, eight, 12, 16 even 32 ports.

So you have a thin fiber connection between the server closet and the end device, the ONT (a small box that looks like a household modem router), the ONT is plugged in and it becomes the power source.

Everything leading from the ONT is a copper cable, so to the end user everything is identical, you’re just not running 32 copper cables in one direction from the server room switch anymore.

So for PoE lighting applications for example, instead of having an electrical drop in 12 locations to light a room, they’ll have one electrical drop, it plugs into the ONT and then it has the low-voltage cable that goes to the 12 light fixtures.

Do I take a bandwidth downgrade when I go from fiber to copper through the ONT?

Not really. Sure, there is some introduced latency, but one of the great things about most buildings oriented applications, they’re not calculating transactions in picoseconds, it’s usually printers and people’s computers, and from an IoT-in-buildings perspective, if you think about it, a lot of the things we’re connecting are not actually wired anymore.

With the next generation of mobile and Wi-Fi networks (5G and 802.11.ax/Wi-Fi 6), more and more of the devices with IoT sensors are wireless and battery operated.

Isn’t fiber overkill for amount of data transfer needed in an building today?

When we consider that the average individual use for a SIM card today is 13Gb/month (young people are driving this), and it’s expected that by 2025 it will be 98 Gb/month per SIM. As Parkinson’s Law tells us, demand always scales to reach capacity.

A lot of people today say, “fiber is overkill, I don’t need it.” My response is, “well, it’s cheaper, so why wouldn’t you get the cheaper one that will last you longer?”

How is POL from a security perspective?

From an outside penetration perspective, the alternatives are roughly equal, if a hacker wants to get into a network through an Internet router, they can get into a passive optical LAN the same way they get into a copper cabled solution.

When it comes to an internal intrusion, it’s easy to disconnect and reconnect a copper cable, in fact it’s designed to reconnect after you disconnect. The thing about optical networking is if you unplug that cable, that port is not coming back alive until you do something from an operator maintenance perspective.

Is now the time for fiber?

We think this year more people will be considering it because the technology is available. Some people still think fiber is not for them, but that’s like how we used to say smart phones aren’t for everyone. What’s in your pocket?


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