Ratification of the 100Base-SX short-wavelength standard tops the Fiber Optics LAN Section agenda.
Last January, the Fiber Optics lan Section (FOLS) of the
Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA--Arlington, VA) elected new officers. Stephen Stange, senior product manager at Transition Networks Inc. (Minneapolis, MN), was elected chairman of FOLS. Cabling Installation & Maintenance interviewed Stange in his new role.
CI&M: What is the most important issue facing fols now?
Stange: The single biggest issue is making sure the 100Base-SX standard gets completed and then promoting it and the solutions and products that get developed around it. fols itself is not developing the standard; it doesn`t have standard-authoring capability. FOLS started the Short Wavelength Fast Ethernet Alliance, which did the initial development work. Then the tia agreed to author the document. That is taking place in TIA`s fo-2.2 fiber-optic subcommittee. So there is liaison work between fols and fo-2.2.
CI&M: What kind of feedback are you hearing from end-users about the 100Base-SX standard?
Stange: People are especially interested in the 10- to 100-megabit-per-second up-gradability over fiber. That is the biggest hot button to most people. The reduced cost is of interest as well because the standard does provide for a lower-cost interface. But the 10/100 functionality over fiber generates the most reaction because that has been a technical limitation of fiber implementations that they don`t like and are anxious to get rid of.
CI&M: What other issues does FOLS face?
Stange: There is some confusion in the marketplace right now about multiple types of multimode fiber. In the United States, 62.5/125-micron fiber was always used. With the advent of 50/125-micron multimode fiber, some people are wondering: "It used to be 62.5, now it`s 50. Will there be something after that?" People are getting wary. One of the strong points of fiber has been that you could tell people that while copper has gone from Category 3 to Category 6, we`re still talking about multimode fiber doing everything you want it to do. With 50-micron fiber, some end-users wonder whether this is still true.
There is concern within fols that this uncertainty will cause people not to choose fiber. The message we want to get out, as it pertains to the last 100 meters, is that any multimode fiber you install--62.5- or 50-micron--will be fine for all the technologies we know today, including Gigabit Ethernet. Any installed fiber in the horizontal is fine for today`s and tomorrow`s technologies. Even as we look at current Gigabit Ethernet specifications, you may have to choose a different wavelength to get some of the distance that you need out of your fiber, based on what type you have, but you will be able to get the distance out of either fiber type. Both will support 550 meters if you use the 1300-nm wavelength.
We want to remove the fear that if users buy one fiber rather than the other, they`re going to be trapped. They should not be concerned that they are buying a technology that will paint them into a corner. No matter which of those technologies they buy--62.5- or 50-micron--both will serve them well.
CI&M: The first ballot of the 100Base-SX standard is completed. Has it been approved as proposed?
Stange: No, basically the first run of ballot came back without passing because of the number of comments. Now, we`re in the comment-resolution phase. We`ll resolve comments and publish another draft, which will then be balloted. We anticipate that that will indeed pass.
CI&M: Will changes in the proposed standard be minor?
Stange: I believe so. Almost all of us who are developing products are also sitting in on the fo-2.2 work now, so we know what all those changes are and can make allowances for them as we go. And we also know where the unsettled areas are, so we know to leave some options in the design in those areas.
CI&M: Who does the ballot go to?
Stange: The ballots go out to everyone who has participated in that particular working group and to any other interested parties that specifically requested it. They get three choices: accept the proposed standard as is, reject it, or reject it with comments. So if you submit comments, you`re in essence rejecting it but giving your reasons why. The comments are two types: editorial and technical. Voting rights are determined by voting rules within that working group because different groups can have different rules, in terms of how many technical sessions you have to attend in a row to attain voting status.
CI&M: Do other interested parties get to vote?
Stange: The way we did it with fo-2.2 was, while they did not have a vote, they could submit their comments to the chair of fo-2.2, and the chair brought their comments into the discussion.
CI&M: When do you believe the standard will be approved?
Stange: My guess is we`re looking at September or October for a released standard. If we meet that timeline, it will be quicker than most standards.
CI&M: Is this the last obstacle to fiber implementation in the horizontal?
Stange: That would really be a bold statement. The 100Base-SX standard will do a lot for the cost issue. Most of the companies that design electronics around this standard anticipate approximately a 40% cost reduction to the end-user for 100Base-SX products as opposed to 100Base-FX products. Incidentally, the 40% reduction is just for the electronics, not for the entire network.
CI&M: Will this make fiber on a par with copper?
Stange: It certainly brings it a lot closer. The fiber infrastructure itself--foot-for-foot for cabling--is not that much more expensive than copper. It`s those of us who make the electronics that are the cost problem. I think there are additional obstacles to fiber implementation, one of which is education--getting people to realize that those companies that installed fiber-to-the-desk-grade multimode fiber 10 years ago will have no problem running Gigabit Ethernet over that fiber. That isn`t true for copper, and that`s a hard message to get people to understand.
CI&M: What about product availability?
Stange: Several companies already have pre-standards products. Transition Networks, for example, has a low-cost, 100Base-TX-to-100Base-SX media converter available now. It`s pre-standard 100-megabit-per-second only, but it does support the lower price point, which is why we went ahead and released it. And all of the member companies of fols are developing products and plan to have standards-compliant products at the time of or very shortly after approval of the standard.
CI&M: How do you educate people about the standard?
Stange: Primarily through speaking opportunities at bicsi and other conferences, and articles in the press. Information is also available at the fols Web site [www.fols.org].
CI&M: On a more general note, some end-users feel their interests are under-represented in standards meetings because it is too costly and time-consuming for them to attend. Would you care to comment?
Stange: My personal background has always been with small companies, and they`re the ones that typically struggle with this issue because of the money and time associated with attending. But they should keep in mind that the participant benefits not just from getting to have technical input and being there with the latest technology; there`s personal networking that goes on there; and corporate networking that goes on there--the people you meet, the business opportunities that you run into there have a huge benefit. If you`re involved in standards activity, formulating work where engineers are working together, where else can an engineer or marketing person from a small company get that kind of time to sit down with engineers from larger companies and talk things over, peer-to-peer? So I encourage people to try to attend these meetings.