Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fiber Is The New Wireline

In telecommunications the term “wireline” means a copper wire connection. That’s contrasted with “wireless” which means no wires at all. There’s also another delivery mechanism called “fiber optic” which isn’t really a wire, but it really isn’t no physical connection at all like wireless. It may be neither fish-nor-fowl, but it is the likely successor to our copper wired infrastructure.

Fiber optic cable is destined to be the replacement for copper wire cable for a couple of reasons. In fact, they’re more alike than different.

Copper wire cabling is a bundle of twisted pairs of thin copper wires, each coated with a plastic insulating covering. Each wire is a different color or combination of colors for easy identification. They’re twisted together in pairs to reduce the effects of electrical interference. One pair is capable of supporting one telephone service or a DSL Internet service. Two pair will carry a T1 digital phone line. A binder group is a collection of individual twisted pairs bound into a single cable. A small to medium size business may have a 25 pair cable installed to provide telephone service. Larger cables have multiple binder groups, each color coded, in one fat plastic coated bundle. All this copper cabling can be buried in the ground or run overhead on poles. It’s where we get the term “land line.”

Now let’s compare our copper landline with a fiber optic cable. Look inside one of these fiber optic cables and you’ll see that the smallest unit is a single strand of glass fiber consisting of a core and cladding. That’s roughly analogous to the copper wire and its insulation. A fiber cable is like a binder group in that there are many individual fibers, each with a color coded jacket for easy identification. Also like copper cabling, fiber cable can be buried in the ground or run overhead on poles. Each fiber serves the same purpose as an individual twisted pair of wires. The difference is that wires transmit electricity while fibers transmit light.

Now, here’s why fiber is going to be the new wireline technology. The limitation with copper is that it can only transmit digital signals so fast. T1 lines have become the standard for digital telephony and business broadband because they use the same twisted pair copper wiring that's used for legacy analog telephony. It takes two pair to make one T1 line, but most businesses have at least a couple of unused pair available on their incoming telco cabling. A T1 line transmits and receives at 1.5 Mbps. If you have additional copper pairs available, you can bring in additional T1 lines. A process called “binding” couples them so they act like one larger capacity service. Eight T1 lines or 16 copper pair bonded gives you a broadband service of 12 Mbps.

Newer modulation technology can bind those multiple copper pair for a faster service called EoC or Ethernet over Copper. EoC can deliver 5 Mbps, 10 Mbps or even 45 Mbps with one limitation. You have to be within a few miles of the nearest carrier facilities, called their POP or Point of Presence. T1 lines can stretch out into the countryside to reach nearly every business, albeit at lower bandwidths than EoC can provide where available.

That’s it. You may be able to get the equivalent of 10 Mbps standard Ethernet speed and even approach 100 Mbps Fast Ethernet in special circumstances using traditional twisted pair copper wireline facilities. But if you want to get really fast service, Gigabit Ethernet and 10 Gigabit Ethernet, you’ve got to have fiber optic cabling installed. In fact, each of those fiber strands can provide at least 10 Gbps versus 1.5 Mbps for a copper pair over long distances. That’s several orders of magnitude difference.

The ground is full of copper telecom cabling, as are utility poles. That’s because there was a century of copper build-out by the telephone companies while they enjoyed a monopoly business position. The telcos and competing companies have been filling the ground with fiber cabling in recent decades. But nearly all of that fiber is for long haul transmissions. You are almost certain to have copper telecom connections to your business, but probably don’t have fiber unless you are in a fairly new facility or are large enough to justify the cost of bringing it in.

That’s all changing. The cost of trenching fiber optic cable isn’t that much different from copper cable. For new installations, it makes sense to install fiber as well as copper. Eventually, it will be fiber only as nothing will connect to copper anymore. It’s going back and bringing in fiber to existing buildings that requires a new investment that providers have been reluctant to make, except where demand from the users in the business park or office building has justified the one time construction costs.

Even in residential areas, fiber is becoming the choice of homeowners who can get it. Many individuals are abandoning their traditional landlines as “old fashioned” compared to being able to communicate anywhere using their cell phones. But cellular networks choke on delivering high bandwidth services, such as video on demand or computer operating system updates. Consumers are finding they actually need a wireline service, but one that has the capacity for high bandwidth content delivery. Verizon’s FiOS is the pioneer in FTTH or Fiber To The Home. Where available it is very popular, even as copper wireline service is abandoned in favor of cellular phone service.

Is your business starved for bandwidth? Perhaps a fiber optic connection can give you all the bandwidth you can use at a cost lower than you might expect. Don’t assume it’s too costly or unavailable until you check prices and availability of fiber optic service for your location.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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