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Growing High-speed Nets Offer Potential for Corporate AV Users

Aug 24, 2006 8:00 AM, By John McKeon


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High-speed Internet connections are reaching out to deliver broadband multimedia content to millions of new users every year. Even though this expansion is being driven mainly by telcos and cable TV firms that want to expand their subscriber lists, it’s sure to have repercussions for corporate AV users and the systems integrators who serve them.

On the consumer side, the business promise is the “triple play”—enticing consumers to get their telephone, Internet, and television services from a single provider. But when it comes to data, bits are bits, and corporate users have the same trio of needs: video, data, and voice communications.

“The notion that I could have a high bandwidth connection that I can use to traffic my internet, voice, and video, all on the same wire, is appealing to a lot of people, especially on the corporate level,” says Harry Mason, director of industry marketing for LSI Logic, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Fibre Channel Industry Association.

Fibre Channel is an infrastructure technology based on an ANSI standard that combines high-capacity fiber connectivity with Storage Area Networking (SAN) technologies to provide huge amounts of data storage that can be accessed over an IP-based network. One of Fibre Channel’s committees has developed Fibre Channel Audio Visual, designed specifically to support the sharing and distribution of high bandwidth video, says another FCIA board member, Scott Kipp of McData Corp.

Cable, DSL, and a variety of hybrid networks all use fiber to some degree, usually connecting their central offices to key distribution points. But fiber partisans are pushing to take the cable connection all the way to the customer premises. The acronym FTTP, (Fiber to the Premises) is similar to FTTH (Fiber to the Home), but it deliberately leaves the network endpoint a more vague—it can embrace home-based businesses, offices, and commercial sites as well as residential users.

Fiber’s penetration so far, though, has been limited. The Federal Communications Commission’s latest census of high-speed Internet services nationwide says that of more than 50 million high-speed lines in use in late 2005, less than one percent were fiber.

Fiber has been campaigning for greater acceptance in many settings that rely on fast transport of large amounts of data. Some traditional AV stronghold niches, like universities and hospitals, are prime candidates to implement fiber-based networks to meet their communications needs. On a university campus, for instance, fiber can transmit video over longer distances without degradation than co-ax cable or Cat-5 networks. For a hospital, fiber offers the promise of high-quality video images delivered virtually anywhere without compression.

High capacity is one appeal of fiber. Corning Optical Fiber, in a recent edition of its Guidelines online magazine, notes that the advent of high-definition video will probably mean the average user will need bandwidth of up to 60Mbps by the end of the decade. “As a consequence,” says author Mehrdad Mahmoudi, business development manager at Corning, “most copper-based technologies...are already at their bandwidth limits.”

Scott Kipp says Fibre Channel technology has seen extensive uses among cinema post-production houses, in the military, and among universities, who find the system enables them to control their own networks while also being connected to the public Internet. As to the vanishing line between business and residential users, Kipp says “it’s a matter of how much they charge you. If you have 10 people working in an office, they’re going to need more bandwidth than a home.”



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