As the more effective alternative to copper, optical fibre infrastructure provides virtually unlimited bandwidth capacity and a highly scalable system. Article by Paul Ng, Carrier Networks Manager for Southeast Asia, Corning Optical Communications.
In an era of smart technology, buildings today are benefiting from the progression of workspaces designed for cost savings, environmental friendliness and efficient energy usage. At the same time, as buildings become smarter, so must network infrastructure.
Traditionally, copper-based networks were the standard infrastructure used to power the bandwidth and service needs of tenants. However, the pace of technology today has far exceeded what copper infrastructure can now support, and the option to upgrade is a costly and intrusive rip-and-replace cycle. While copper networks offer low upfront costs, the infrastructure eventually incurs high costs in terms of maintenance, replacement and tenant satisfaction.
With the world’s growing reliance on bandwidth-heavy technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality and Internet of Things (IoT), wired networks are bound to experience unprecedented strain. According to Deloitte, the solution is investment in deep fibre, or optical fibre networks with highly concentrated cell sites and access points. Without more deep fibre, says Deloitte, carriers will be unable to support the projected fourfold increase in mobile data traffic between 2016 and 2021.
As the more effective alternative to copper, optical fibre infrastructure provides virtually unlimited bandwidth capacity and a highly scalable system, ensuring that buildings are empowered to meet tenant demands for services and applications many years into the future. Choosing fibre can not only save costs in the long run, but can also ensure that as technology and application needs evolve, the building can still offer the future-ready connectivity that tenants require.
Comparing The Makeup Of Copper And Fibre Cables
To understand the superior quality of fibre optic cables, it is important to understand the precision involved in producing each hair-thin strand of fibre within the cable. For the cable to transmit light effectively over long distances and without losing any encoded information, each fibre has to be extremely pure and clear. In order to obtain these high standards of clarity, manufacturers control every aspect of the manufacturing process. This is because any variations in density – however minor – will cause light to scatter, which results in the loss of signal.
Corning’s optical fibre is created using gas travelling through flames to form particles of glass soot particles that are deposited carefully in uniform layers on a solid rod. The glass would need to have a clear core surrounded by a skin made of glass called cladding, so that it could reflect laser light back into the core and keep it travel along its path. To make glass transmit light most effectively, Corning makes the core to be of a higher reflective index than the cladding, which acts as a mirror, trapping light inside the core.
The drawing process, where a single skinny glass strand that’s thousands of kilometres is arguably one of the most crucial process. The precise controlling of the timing and temperature of the draw is what gets the pristine transparency and low signal loss that customers want. Lastly, the fibre is made to bend easily even when wrapped around tight corners of buildings or wrapped around rods, without losing signal strength.
As a transmission medium, fibre has an enormous advantage because its overall bandwidth potential is much higher in terms of the number of different signals it can transmit and the speed at which information is encoded or modulated.
Copper wires on the other hand, are a bulkier technology first designed to carry voice call data via electrical pulse. Prone to disruption from environment factors such as temperature and electromagnetic fluctuations, copper cables degrade very quickly in quality over a distance of 2km. Despite its bulkiness, copper has low tolerance for tension. Most worrying of all, copper transmits electricity and is susceptible to being tapped, which can cause the entire network to fail. Without efficient monitoring techniques, damaged or worn copper cables can short-out completely or even cause a fire.
In comparison with copper, fibre allows light to travel for hundreds of miles with little attenuation, without interference by other electrical transmissions nearby. Fibre is also, once installed, far cheaper to maintain than a copper line. Lighter, smaller and more durable than copper cabling, fibre cables can generally only be damaged by deliberate vandalism. Inch for inch, optical fibre is stronger than steel and more durable than copper, despite being made out of glass. Fibre cabling can also save costs for fire prevention, since light will not catch fire and the cables will not pose a fire hazard.
Lowered Total Cost Of Ownership Compared To Copper
When it comes to cost, the installation for fibre is initially expensive compared to copper, but total cost of ownership eventually becomes lower than copper due to fibre’s superior durability and longer life cycle. In terms of operations and maintenance, an all-fibre network does not need traditional telecommunications closets used for copper networks, which entails the costs of conditioned UPS (Uninterruptible Power Source) power, data ground and floor space.
These integral costs are generally more expensive than the extra cost of fibre equipment in a centralised fibre infrastructure, and takes up significantly more (limited) working space. Fibre optic cables require much less space for wiring compared to copper. Where copper wiring may have previously taken up a great deal of limited space within an office or area, smaller diameter micro fibre cables offer lower duct utilisation and high bend-resistance, thus maximising pathways and space utilisation.
A crowded duct, that might previously be considered full, can accommodate these micro cables into the limited space available and obviate the need to install new ducts. Even if a new duct is necessary, it requires less physical space than before because the smaller micro cables enable smaller micro ducts so more can be packed in the same array. This not only allows the operator more space to grow capacity in the future, or to even lease to other operators to generate more revenue immediately.
Overcoming Perceived Challenges Of Switching To Fibre
Despite the evident advantages of fibre, many network owners are reluctant to make the move due to perceived complexities and concerns over cost. When comparing copper cables versus fibre optic, the cost of copper cabling is not much cheaper than an all-fibre network. Although fibre optic cables may have a higher initial cost than copper, the durability and reliability of fibre can make the total cost of ownership (TCO) lower. In addition, as technology advances, costs will continue to decrease for fibre optic cables and related components.
Migration to fibre optic from copper is not difficult, as there are dedicated media converters that enable the seamless migration of legacy copper systems to fibre optic infrastructure, without causing disruption to existing systems. Depending on the network type, link speed and distance requirements, there are many types of media converters to choose from. Fibre optic cables are also compatible with existing hardware without a great deal of adjustments or additional expenses involved in the transition.
Proper network planning will ensure the flexibility to scale and confidence to meet future increases in network speed and bandwidth demand. As technology evolves and we progress into a connected-everything world, an all-fibre network ensures the infrastructure is able to grow as needed.
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