Specialty fiber distributor combats shortages

The fiber-optic market is exploding but singlemode fiber shortage causes customers to wait

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The fiber-optic market is exploding but singlemode fiber shortage causes customers to wait.

Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.

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Fiber Instrument Sales Inc. (FIS-Oriskany, NY) is a long-time specialty distributor of fiber-optic products. For the last year or so, that has been both the good news and bad news.

The good news, according to Valerie Jones, FIS vice president of sales and marketing, is that "the fiber-optic marketplace is just bursting. People are going wherever they can just to get product." The bad news, of course, is that the desired products are not always to be found. Jones says that some companies without contracted sources of singlemode fiber are looking at 15-month delays, and even longer, before they can fulfill their buildout commitments.

"Our focus," Jones adds, "is on servicing our customers and keeping inventory on the shelves." Asked about e-commerce, Jones states it is still a very minor part of FIS's business. "We get three to five orders a day via our Website," she claims, "versus a thousand orders a week through other channels."

Jones concedes that the Internet is an important tool and may be the wave of the future. "But for now," she says, "it's only one vehicle, and not the most important one. We don't want to get away from personal sales."

The personal touch is especially important in today's fiber-optics marketplace, in Jones's opinion, because of its "emergency air." "Talking to someone gives him or her reassurance," she adds. "We can tell them that the order is shipping today. Calling in is still the quickest way of doing business."

The explosion in fiber optics has imposed some costs on FIS. The staff has almost doubled, from 120 to 205, and a new 40,000-sq-ft facility has been constructed. The distributor must also maintain a larger on-the-shelf inventory to meet higher levels of demand.

The payback, however, has come in corporate growth. FIS has averaged growth of 25% per year, and has experienced 60% growth during this breakout year for optical fiber. Nor is the company particularly concerned about the market eventually scaling back to a more sustainable level of expansion. This is because of FIS's long experience in serving a specialized market, and because it is diversified, manufacturing its own lines of fiber-optic products as well as distributing those of other manufacturers.

What to expect from fiber-optic shortages

Valerie Jones, vice president of sales and market for Fiber Instrument Sales Inc. (Oriskany, NY), says her company, which specializes in the manufacture and distribution of optical-fiber products, is experiencing two major shortages this year.

The most heralded, from the standpoint of the overall marketplace, is the shortage of singlemode optical fiber. Jones says customers without contracts with distributors or manufacturers may wait more than a year for this item. Singlemode fiber, however, is of only limited interest to the premises and campus cabling marketplace. Of more concern is a shortage of fiber-optic connector ferrules.

Bob Swanson, senior executive vice president of Anicom Inc. (Rosemont, IL), echoes Jones's observation that singlemode fiber is in short supply from major manufacturers. He adds reassuringly, however, that multimode optical fiber-the medium most often used in campus and building cabling-is not experiencing any shortages.

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