FOLS’ new spreadsheet model compares copper/fiber LAN infrastructure costs

The price of an optical-fiber network is coming down and a new cost model by the Telecommunications Industry Association’s Fiber Optics LAN Section (FOLS, www.

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The price of an optical-fiber network is coming down and a new cost model by the Telecommunications Industry Association’s Fiber Optics LAN Section (FOLS, offers a simplified tool to compare infrastructure costs.

The third-generation model is posted on the FOLS Web site as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. It can be downloaded at no cost.

Last September, Cabling Installation & Maintenance reported that FOLS had updated its Web-based cost model; however, that model was never released to the public. FOLS representatives say they decided to withhold it, and instead expanded on it to reflect converged networks, new standards and databases.

FOLS developed its latest cost model to show that deploying fiber is a compelling choice, based on analysis of installed first costs. FOLS believes that first-installed costs play a larger role in determining network infrastructure decisions than lifecycle costs.

It has been two years since FOLS issued a version of its cost model. Since then, market conditions have changed considerably. Today, the costs for fiber electronics are lower, a greater range of fiber products is available, new fiber-friendly architectures have been standardized, and networks are being designed to support the demands of convergence.

“The model was updated so that it more accurately reflects market conditions,” says Elizabeth Goldsmith, FOLS public relations director. “We incorporated the newly standardized fiber-to-the-telecom enclosure (FTTE) architecture, as well as making sure that we referenced electronics that will support converged networks.”

In addition, Goldsmith says, “We simplified the interface to make the model easier to use. While fiber networks may still not be the right choice for every situation, we hope the model will help users better understand their infrastructure options.”

The latest model takes a broader scope than previous versions by focusing on the support of converged networks. Specifically, this means including switches that enable converged network performance.

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The Fiber Optics LAN Section (FOLS) has released its third-generation interactive cost model for estimating LAN infrastructure costs. The model is posted on the FOLS Web site ( as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, and can be downloaded at no cost.
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“When the last version of the model was released, these types of optical-fiber switches simply weren’t available from a lot of manufacturers-a trend that has changed,” says Dan Harman, FOLS vice chairman. “Today, not only do Tier 1 switch manufacturers like Cisco Systems offer fiber workgroup switches, but the cost of these electronics has come down in price significantly.”

Harman adds, “When discussing fiber LAN technologies, we get a lot of feedback from users that they want to use the equipment from Tier 1 providers. This iteration of the model makes significant reference to products from Tier 1 switch suppliers. In our last model, at times, we needed to reference products from some of the smaller switch manufacturers.”

The costs shown in the model, Harman notes, represent an aggregate price derived from at least three different manufacturers in every product category.

“This model shows that the cost of an all-fiber network can be competitive with a traditional copper-based network, when using Tier 1 switch providers,” says Harman. “This combats the perception that the cost of the electronics is so high it makes the implementation of these networks prohibitive.”

To determine the representative pricing used in the sample scenarios, Harman says the model incorporates aggregate pricing data derived from publicly accessible databases such as, an education and technology-bidding program.

“We encourage everyone who downloads the model to use their own pricing,” says Harman. “It is very easy for users to completely customize the model and make it apply to their own building, using the prices they get from their own suppliers.”

The new model features a simplified user interface that incorporates dropdown menus to allow choices. FOLS purposely simplified the user interface to make it easier to understand and customize the tool. The new model also provides more explanations about the architectures and includes network diagrams that illustrate each of the architectures featured. These and other features were added after FOLS surveyed users who had downloaded the second-generation model.

“We didn’t get feedback that the old model was hard to use,” says Goldsmith. “It’s just that we thought it should be more intuitive, and several users gave us ideas that allowed us to improve upon what we had done in the past.”

Goldsmith adds, “In previous versions of the model, we illustrated a number of different scenarios. In this version, we focused on standards-compliant architectures; however, since the model is flexible, users can change the size of the building and the number of users to reflect their own installation.”

The sample scenarios show the installed first costs of fiber-based solutions to be either less expensive, or within 5% of the installed first costs of the traditional combined fiber backbone and UTP horizontal architecture.

The model contains a column for market pricing and a column for custom pricing.

It compares the costs of:

• A horizontal star architecture (UTP horizontal with a fiber riser backbone);

• A horizontal star architecture to a centralized cabling architecture (also called “collapsed cabling”);

• A horizontal star architecture to a low-density FTTE design; and

• A horizontal star architecture to a high-density FTTE design.

“We didn’t try to skew the model in any particular direction,” says Harman. “In all cases, the aggregate pricing used in the model represents a higher relative cost than the lowest cost choice.”

In the first comparison, the cost of the centralized cabling solution is 5% higher than the hierarchical star architecture. “The perception is that fiber is 30 to 50% more than copper,” says Harman. “In fact, this finding is within the statistical range of error for the model, and shows that users really need to input their own pricing to get a comparison that is accurate for their situation.”

When comparing the horizontal star architecture to the FTTE solutions, a low-density FTTE architecture proves to be 30.5% less expensive than the traditional hierarchical star network.

“The added benefit to this design,” says Harman, “is that it is a completely non-blocking architecture. This is a very important consideration when supporting a converged network.”

Harman explains that the FTTE architecture’s flexibility means that users can leverage the reach of fiber cable to bring the bandwidth closer, but they can choose to make the drop from the telecom enclosure to the desktop using any of a variety of options-fiber, UTP or wireless.

Comparing a high-density FTTE architecture to a horizontal star architecture, according to the FOLS model, suggests that even greater savings can be achieved-a 41.8% savings by using the high-density FTTE architecture.

“This is by far the least expensive and most flexible option available to designers today,” claims Harman. “While this solution is not completely non-blocking, it still offers better performance than a UTP/fiber network, at a significant cost savings.”

FOLS says more than 1,500 people downloaded the first two generations of the model. To date, more than 500 people have downloaded the third-generation model.

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