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The Future of Fibre in Buildings
by Martin Ashton, Draka UK Sales Manager
A combination of developments in lasers, active equipment and smaller fibre cables have allowed the many advantages of fibre over copper to come to the fore. Here we take the opportunity to discuss how leading experts within Prysmian Group see the future of fibre.
Fibre vs. Copper
When it comes to data centres fibre already dominates. Scott Brown, Global Director of Product Management at Draka says “here, we are seeing real world demand for higher and higher fibre densities. We are regularly supplying 6912 fibre count cable to the hyper-scale data centres.” John Shuman, Global Product Manager, Data Centre and Telecom, agrees: “with the bandwidth needs today of 10Gig, 25Gig, or 40Gig, fibre is the answer as it scales easily and, with newer connectors and easier field installation, requires less complex tooling and training; highly skilled technicians are no longer needed. The plug-n-play advantages of most fibre today is much like that of copper.”
Outside of this arena, the use of copper and fibre is determined by the nature of a building’s design. In most cases, Fibre to the Desk is not a reality now or in the future, as Andreas Wassmuth, Director Business Development at Draka explains: “I don’t see electronics manufacturers changing the chipset in our devices to enable this. However, I already see fibre reaching to the floor distribution level, or to a remote hub (consolidation point) which then serves an area of maybe 10 to 30 metres. The devices would then be connected by various technologies with copper category cables, single pair ethernet or wirelessly to that hub.”
Fibre is now a true internal/external CPR complaint solution, which we rarely see with copper. New product developments of up to 432 fibres have B2ca compliance. “Internal/external cables remove a layer of complexity and a layer of connectivity” states Ian Griffiths, Director R&D Telecom at Prysmian. “If you can run an outdoor cable inside without a transition joint in place between the two, it’s a cost benefit.” John Shuman agrees, “being able to use a single cable type to move between two different spaces without a transition point, removes cost and allows one cable type for the entire deployment, for example running cables between DC’s directly into their main data hall.”
“Densification is the focus here” says Ian Griffiths, “trying to put as many fibres as possible within the duct case. For the past 20 years, the most popular fibre count range has been between 12 and 288. Over the past decade with hyperscale data centres and telecom operators, this figure rose to 432 and 864 fibre strands. Today we are in ultra-high fibre count territory, with 1728 and 3456 fibre strand capacity; 6912 already exists and we’re still moving higher.”
“Space is at a premium” explains John Shuman, “Customers need smaller cables to take advantage of legacy infrastructure and fill them with the maximum number of fibres possible.” While fibre strand capacity is increasing, overall cable size has been reducing. The world’s smallest bend insensitive single-mode optical fibre was recently launched, with an outer diameter of just 180 microns.
“As well as making smaller fibres, we are also making the tubes smaller and thinner enabling even greater reductions in cable diameter. Previously if you had an 8mm duct, we could blow a 96 fibre microduct cable with 250-micron fibre. With 200-micron fibre, this increased to 192, but now with the smaller tubes and the 180-micron fibre, we can install 288 in there” says Ian Griffiths.
Of course, this is very much from a telecoms and data centre perspective, but what about when it comes to the enterprise market?
According to Andreas, congested ducts are also a major issue here. “Making smaller cables is certainly important but getting them into an existing overcrowded duct is the real problem. Even as outer diameters reduce, the tensile strength of fibre cables increases with each new development. We also see the application of blown fibre at the design stage of a project. It allows for rapid fibre expansion and upgrades to the latest fibre technologies as bandwidth demands grow. Tube routes can also be easily interrupted at any location, so re-routing to new users can be achieved, increasing operational flexibility in a rapidly changing work environment.”
Bandwidth Performance of Optical Fibre
Unless there are any major breakthroughs with glass manufacturing, Scott Brown sees OM5 multi-mode as hitting a limit which might drive more single-mode applications. “Some of this is happening already today, especially as single-mode equipment becomes less expensive.”
From a sales perspective, Martin Ashton, UK Sales Manager at Draka agrees: “we see more customers making the switch to single-mode with the huge bandwidth advantages over multimode. Single-mode cables are cheaper, so it is the electronics that are the real drivers here. With current trends I would expect single-mode to become the de-facto optical cable in enterprise as well as telecom.”
The Rise of the Ribbon
“Ribbon cables are easier to install when it comes to splicing or end connecting to other cables. It’s a 12-fibre ribbon that is being worked with rather than 12 individual fibres. Time is money and faster more reliable installs lead to faster turn ups of services” says John Shuman. “Realistically you can expect to speed up the splicing process by a factor of three to five."
Ian Griffiths sees the uptake of ribbon across Europe being driven by new developments: “One of main reasons ribbon hasn’t been used much in Europe is that it isn’t nice to work with! It bends in one direction, doesn’t route very well in connectivity and isn’t suited to the smaller spaces we must work in (unlike the US). However, new flexible ribbon technology is the game changer. The fibres collapse, so behave more like a bunch of single fibres – allowing for three-dimensional routing into existing connectivity products. You then benefit from the time saved in splicing.”
It’s not just bandwidth demands that are driving change, but also the way in which we use our buildings that are making us rethink cable design and installation practices. IoT and future digital buildings, where energy saving is key, are bringing exciting new developments. Many sensing equipment centres within the building will be required. While these devices don’t have a heavy data stream, you need to power them and this is driving the development of Fibre to the Antenna (FTTA) hybrid designs where power and optics are provided in one cable.
Fibre will be at the centre of future system’s architecture. Cable density, splice time, operational flexibility, hybrid power cables and increasing bandwidth will all be in the mix. As an industry we must all take advantage of the exciting opportunities this will bring.
Draka is a brand of the Prysmian Group, the world market leader in power and telecommunications cables and systems. www.prysmiangroup.com