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InfoComm 2014: Fiber Optic Association’s Jim Hayes

Jun 12, 2014 9:01 AM, With Bennett Liles

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Say you’ve seen something in fiber-optic gear that looks good and you decide to invest in it, what are the potential problems in connecting and networking hardware?

Well fiber is not rocket science. I always jokingly point out that I used to be a rocket scientist so I can actually say that. It’s not rocket science, but there are specific knowledge, skills and abilities that you need in order to be successful at installing, testing and using fiber optics. And that’s always been our focus at the FOA, and that’s why we produce all our videos, our online free self-study programs on Fiber U, and our online guide, we make that available to everybody so that we can ensure that their likelihood of being able to install and use these fiber optic networks has a very high probability. [Timestamp: 6:38]

When people have problems with installation, a lot of them call the FOA so what part of installation seems to generate the most trouble calls you get?

Well testing is always a problem, and it’s generally because of the fact that the people who write the paperwork that specifies what kind of testing is needed don’t know what’s needed and a lot of the people who buy instruments are only knowledgeable enough to know that if you push a button and you get a pass/fail, it’s supposed to work. And if anything is out of the ordinary, then they get confused and it seems like they call me. [Timestamp: 7:14]

Well, I think you can go beyond that just watching the YouTube videos, but the FOA has some courses that are much more detailed. If you’re going to attend some of the education events and you’re in a room full of guys who may have a lot more experience than you have and you may be afraid to ask something that may sound like a dumb question, the FOA’s YouTube videos may answer those questions and get you up to a little higher level.

That’s a very good point.

Everybody knows that in the beginning fiber was much more expensive than copper, but how does that look now? How does the cost of fiber networks compare to the cost of the latest copper twisted-pair systems.

If you’re looking at something like a college campus or a convention center or a hotel or a large business facility or government facility, installing a optical LAN today based on fiber to the home technology has proven to cost less than half as much as a traditional copper structured cabling system. It’s that much cheaper and part of the reason is that in an optical LAN you replace a handful of copper cable fiber and that makes a very, very big difference in cost. The other thing is that you save a lot of money in power. Traditional copper networks with lots of switches use lots of power and typically require as much power consumption from air conditioning as they require to actually operate the equipment. But with an optical LAN you don’t have those switches, and you use fiber which requires very little power. So applications like the very, very large system at Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque where they have 13,000 users, their system with an optical LAN consumes 20 percent as much power – 80 percent less power – than a copper-based, structured cabling system they replaced. [Timestamp: 9:06]

And that may not be the thing that most people think of first when they consider copper versus fiber, but, depending on the size of the deployment, the power difference can be pretty big.

Oh, it’s a long-term cost these days.

What sort of fiber-optic education would you like to see offered at the big trade shows like InfoComm?

In much of the past, when we have been invited to go to tradeshows, it’s been, “There’s this new thing called fiber and we want contractors to know how to use it.” And in recent times, we’re seeing more of a focus on the people who own the systems, the people who write scopes of work or the RFQs or the contracts to have somebody install them a system. And what I really like to see shows do is spend more time trying to educate those people as opposed to trying to educate the people who do the installation. [Timestamp: 10:03]

Yeah, the people splicing the lines and putting on the connectors is only a part of it.

It’s a very small part of it. A lot of problems we see are due to the fact that the people who write the specs don’t know what they’re writing specs for. And we’re spending more and more time trying to get their attention and create materials that they can sit down with and understand what’s involved in the project. The better they can do the specs for their project the more money they’re going to save. The other thing we’re seeing is that IT people used to say I don’t care about cabling, it’s only a couple percent of my budget. But in fact it’s a very, very expensive part of the budget because a lot of the failures of networks are cabling related and they’re the hardest ones to diagnose. [Timestamp: 10:49]

And when you walk into InfoComm, what sort of fiber-based gear do you see most—extenders, switchers, routers? What do you see on the exhibit floor?

Well, I would say a few years ago it would be media converters, so if you wanted a PTZ CC TV camera you’d have to get a media converter for it. You needed media converters for most types of equipment because they were originally designed for copper and today the companies that have been making that equipment for years are starting to produce fiber-specific equipment because they know that that’s what a lot of their customers are using. So as I go around at tradeshows I’m, let’s say, pleasantly surprised at how many vendors are now supporting all-fiber networks themselves. [Timestamp: 11:37]

Well, fiber is nothing new but it’s evolving for sure. Fiber to the home is a huge movement with Google coming into it and a lot of rural governments setting up their own fiber networks. The FOA has a lot of ways to become an expert on fiber installation and the bigger picture of writing specs and design details for fiber networks. Jim, thanks for being here with us to give us the latest on that. I hope you’ll keep in touch with us.

My pleasure.

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