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Start Thinking About Pushing Fiber out Farther

We hear about businesses abandoning copper and installing nothing but fiber, but I am fairly confident this won't happen until substantial changes take place in the industry. When installed right, copper provides the businesses value of having that always-on utility. And in places where copper is already installed, it isn't easy to rip it out and replace it with fiber.

However, enterprises should take any opportunity they can find to start deploying fiber to replace copper. Fiber is an instant win whenever you need to build a local infrastructure with high bandwidth that can be aggregated easily and cost-effectively. I was reminded of this recently when I laid in a 5-Gbps backbone network by connecting switch stacks via fiber, using Adtran's 2.5Ghz transceivers and then bonding or aggregating two fiber pairs.

Whenever you install fiber, install the highest-rated fiber you can afford, so you can grow into it; 10 GHz 50/125um Multimode Fiber is rated higher than what our transceivers deliver today, but if you can install it now, you won't have to upgrade later.

In my recent installation, those two fiber pairs between switch stacks isolate any chance of power transients traversing the network beyond each individual switch stack (since fiber cable doesn't transmit power); isolating in this way means any potential problem that hits your network will be limited to that one switch stack. If you don't think this is a big deal, then continue using copper to connect and you will continue chasing phantoms.

Then any NAS (network-attached storage) or servers can also benefit from aggregation or NIC teaming, and using fiber to connect is the optimal method, though copper is still used. You can deploy 1 Ghz copper or 1 Ghz fiber, but the key differences are that fiber delivers more bandwidth over longer distances with no vulnerability to RFI/EMI. In short, you get clean bandwidth.

Over time, we may see more enterprise LANs go all-wireless, and I think we will see Wi-Fi Access Points with fiber connectivity soon enough as a hedge to deliver more bandwidth than copper can support. Recently I used Category 6A cabling rather than Category 6, and the 6A cable is a beast. It's larger and heavier, but I can use it for Access Points and maybe get enough use out of it before seeing fiber replace the 6A wire.

In general, though, the 6A cable is too big, and I think this will continue being an issue. From a practical standpoint, its size alone should be a tipping point in considering fiber. An enterprise will need larger conduits to support multiple Category 6A cables to one faceplate, as well as rack systems capable of supporting the substantial added weight. There's also substantial labor costs to pull wire that's this much of a beast across the ceilings and down walls. These experiences should convince enterprises that it's time for new fiber solutions to enter the LAN to displace copper.

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