TIA group confronts optical-fiber 'myths'

Optical fiber is fragile. Its performance capabilities are unnecessary, and the fiber itself is more difficult to install than copper

Jul 1st, 2002

Optical fiber is fragile. Its performance capabilities are unnecessary, and the fiber itself is more difficult to install than copper.

These are just some of the myths that the Fiber Optics LAN Section (FOLS) of the Telecommunications Industry Association (www.fols.org) would like to dispel. The section outlined the myths in a recent report, and is trying to convince network managers to think differently.

"Basically over the last five years, all the arguments against installing fiber to the desk have systematically been removed," says Herb Congdon, chairman of the standards committee for the FOLS. But the paper, developed to help network managers, MIS users, engineers and installers evaluate the benefits and value of fiber in LANs, strives to debunk several myths that FOLS members say perpetuate to this day. Among them is the misconception that switching from copper to optical fiber is expensive and not worth the trouble. Another argues that an upgrade to fiber would be costly, and that longtime copper users don't need fiber.

Elizabeth Goldsmith, a consultant for the section, says the impetus for the report came from Eric Pearson of Pearson Technologies (www.ptnowire.com), an optical-fiber training company. Goldsmith says Pearson met with a number of cable installers who were not familiar with optical-fiber installation, and Pearson said many of their concerns regarding the installation had long been answered-or so he thought.

"We wanted to address those lingering questions," says Goldsmith.

Since most installers are more familiar with copper cabling installation, Congdon says he isn't completely surprised by the reaction, even though "in the last five years, there's been a big swing [toward fiber]."

In the paper, FOLS members address five issues or myths that they believe have left network managers wary of taking fiber all the way to the desktop when they upgrade their networks. The paper considers fiber strength, network performance, ease of installation, LAN electronics costs, and migrating from copper to fiber.

Regarding ease of installation, for example, the paper argues that new generations of connectors are making fiber installations easier and faster. The paper argues that pre-polished, field installable connectors eliminate the need for epoxy and polishing procedures, reducing the connection time per connector, thereby reducing installation labor costs.

"New technology is available now for installing fiber connectors, and it doesn't' matter that you don't have years of experience," Congdon says. "You can now install new fiber connectors quickly and do good work."

The paper also argues that when it comes to LAN electronics costs, component prices have decreased overall installation costs. The paper states that greater simplicity of fiber-based hubs, concentrators and network interface cards make for lower costs and eliminate the need to pull new maintenance costs. The paper also states that faster data rates and longer distances mean fewer closets and building space fees.

"If you take advantage of these products, you can install a complete fiber-to-the-desk network, including the electronics, for slightly less expense than the standard copper network," says Congdon. "Fiber will let you go longer distances with the same signal set."

The paper also argues that regarding fiber strength, optical-fiber cable possesses a maximum allowed pulling force that is eight times greater than UTP copper cables. The paper also states that unlike copper, fiber is immune to magnetic interference and crosstalk.

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