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Expert Roundtable: The State of Fiber

Mar 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Bennett Liles

Four industry experts shed some light on the future of fiber.

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Where do you see the relative costs of fiber and copper cable and other hardware headed in relation to each other?

Commare: Raw copper has gotten pricey over the last few years. Bought any plumbing supplies lately? In terms of cable, there is little difference in installing one or the other. Since the technology is always advancing (analog video to HD video and now on the 3Gbps 1080p signals), we do not see price reductions in hardware (transmitters and receivers), because they are doing more at faster speeds now than even just two years ago. Prices have come down on raw optical components significantly.

Spennacchio: Well, for a while there, the price of copper was soaring. Now, like other commodities, the price has been going down. The real savings with fiber versus copper, regardless of the initial cost of the cable, is the significant reduction in onsite labor for installed systems and the significant reduction in weight, space, and time (setup and teardown) savings for live concert sound or broadcast production use.

Hayes: It's really more a distance/bandwidth issue as prices are usually comparable. CCTV, for example, uses fiber because coax has such a limited distance capability, and data centers use fiber because at 10Gbps, copper has distance/bandwidth problems while fiber is just cruising. The unexpected advantage of fiber at 10G is power consumption — a big issue as servers consume about 2 percent of all power in the U.S.

Lopinto: Fiber cable in the U.S. has more or less reached a plateau at about 2 cents a foot less than Cat-5e. Copper cable, on the other hand, seems to have an upward bias in pricing. The real problem with copper pricing is when you price it versus the bandwidth that is required for an application. Cat-5e used to be sufficient for most all applications when all you were transmitting was XGA resolutions. But now, support for WUXGA, 1080p, and 2K resolutions is becoming more than norm — which pushes up the need for higher-bandwidth copper cabling, such as Cat-6, Cat-7, and in some cases, even multiple coax. Now, when you compare the cost of fiber versus copper, it isn't even close. People need to understand that the cost of one transmission media versus another is all about bandwidth, not the raw per-foot cost.

Are there any recent developments in fiber cable or transmission equipment that look promising? (Such as bend radius, transmission distance, multiplexing, and so on.)

Commare: Cable is always improving, and as I said, the cost of optically muxing signals is coming down, as well. Ninety percent of our business involves distances of less than 3 miles, and we make sure that our equipment has the largest-possible optical budgets.

Spennacchio: The SFP module is one [development]. There are readily available SFP modules that can increase the transmission distance of single-mode fiber to distances of 120 kilometers. The SFP module — although it has been in use in other industries for some time — gives the end user increased flexibility by offering a wide variety of optical types in an easy-to-use package.

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