This may be especially true for large older and heritage buildings where the cost of upgrading may be prohibitive due to the internal structures, but the same thing can also be said for Campus networks such as Hospitals and Universities, where the internal network has not kept pace with the outside world.
Office Networks vs Domestic Networks
As with domestic uses, drivers for uncreased bandwidth include both numbers of users and the applications at play, with video being a major driver.
As with the so called BYOD bring your own device trend of a few years ago driven by advances in the performance and experience of otherwise domestic devices versus ‘work’ devices, so it is increasingly the case that office networks can be a source of frustration rather than user satisfaction. In many cases users prefer to use their mobile devices and external wireless networks instead of corporate systems. This can give rise to so called ‘shadow IT’ systems
Perhaps fortunately, often the main blockage to such usage patterns is that external radio based networks networks often do not penetrate sufficiently far into buildings – but that hardly helps with user frustration!
External & Cloud Providers?
It might be tempting to leave it all to external providers and forget the internal network but on top of this is the corporate need for security where employers and organisations needing both to retain control over their Intellectual Property and also be compliant to regulatory standards of data governance such as GDPR and Data hosting rules. Thus it will likely not be sufficient for such organisations to simply say stick it on Dropbox etc. Not only that but commercial locations are often not well positioned to take advantage of consumer driven, domestic style services due to away from centre office locations such as out of town industrial parks, rural locations and the large number of users present in concentrated locations.
It may be apocryphal but an example case of this is the story of an out of town office location for a medium sized corporate who were convinced by the sales team from a certain mobile network provider to outsource all of their phone connections to the mobile network. Not only did the network not penetrate the building fully, but also the massive loading of 200 users killed off the local cell tower due to the overload!
21st Century Office Networks: Copper Vs Fibre
So what does all this mean? Simply, corporations and indeed office premises owners need to take care of their in-building and across-campus network infrastructure if they are going to be able to compete for talent, be compliant to regulation and offer organisations the benefits of the same types of service as user readily attain at home. Otherwise offices will fall out of fashion and corporates will lose the advantage of economies of scale, as smaller and more nimble entities compete with them using next generation services that focus on multimedia technologies.
One of the big issues for office networking is the sheer density of users. In some ways this is the opposite problem to residential systems and especially rural networks, where the opposite is often true. Risers, ducts and cable runs are often either full, over full or perhaps non existent in any usable form. This can be due to reams of legacy cables, many of which are of unknown use that noone dares interfere with, or simply as a result of growth. Structured cabling technologies are of course designed to make the most of restricted cable runs with ultra dense installations.
Many installers celebrate their work with beautiful pictures of their work versus what it replaced . What those don’t do however is to escape the fundamental disadvantage of most in building and across campus networks, which is that copper cable is BIG.
Even though CAT5 cable connections are capable of quite high speed connections by recent standards, even perhaps Gigabit speeds, they are limited to a maximum run length of around 100 metres. And one those runs are wrapped around corners and up and down vertical runs, they are quickly used up.
The same goes for local comms cabinets large and small. And the of course there is the local equipment required in those cabinets – often in dirty inaccessible spaces
Fibre & Wireless
So what is the solution? There are two obvious candidates – Wireless and Fibre.
Wireless is obviously an important solution for users on the mover but in building networks fabrics vary. Many buildings feature such problems as foil lined partitioning, solid concrete walls, long corridors as well as problems of security and network stability with very large numbers of users within confined areas. For larger campus scale networks wireless connections will simply not reach unless they also include fixed cable connections used as extensions. It is therefore inevitable that most wireless networks will require a large element of cabling as well.
What we know about Fibre
Here are some things you may already know about Fibre
- Massive bandwidths: 1-1000+ Gigabits per second
- No Contention
- Low Latency: Lack of intermediate equipment equates to speed of light transmission
But here are some perhaps lesser known facts about Fibre
- Short or Long distances: 1m to 5000km
- Any Protocol: Ethernet, Fibrechannel, IP, MPLS, and many many more
- Secure against electrical Interference
- Ability to do a lot more than point to point networking
So Fibre offers a lot more than any copper or indeed wireless technology and it’s key advantages by be summarised in the context of Campus and in-building technologies as almost unlimited Capacity. Highly dense and almost unlimited distance
Point to Point Connections vs Multiple Connections
Traditionally fibre and indeed most cable infrastructure has been seen as a simple point to point, A to B connectivity solution
And if more than one connection is needed then simply multiply the number of cables!
Switching or Routing?
Some of us realise that actually cabled connections can be shared – but usually, in order to do that, some kind of electronic device such as a router is required
This adds flexibility and reduces the amount of cable needed, but it also adds complexity, cost, power and space for it’s installation. Potentially it also adds a previously non existent security headache
Cable Sharing – Enter ‘Multiplexing’
Fortunately though there are other solutions for cable reduction! and all of them enable a single fibre to be shared between multiple users Devices or servers.
At this point you might be wonder in if we are about to introduce some kind of wacky and wonderful new technology – but not so. These approaches have been available for years already!
Enter the concept of ‘Multiplexing’ – it’s a way of sharing the same connection. There are several types
- Wavelength Division Multiplexing – (WDM)
- Frequency Division Multiplexing – (FDM)
- Time Division Multiplexing – (TDM)
- Code Division Multiplexing – (CDM)
Wavelength and Frequency are effectively the same thing and Time division multiplexing requires those electronic routing or switching devices. So the ones to focus on the list are Wavelength Division and Code Division Multiplexing that don’t need electronics to do the sharing.
Designed for use on Fibre networks both CDM and WDM technologies are already in widespread use across the telecommunications sector.
CDM(A) is also the foundation technology used by 3G and 4G mobile radio to share the radio spectrum among many users, and WDM technology takes advantage of the simple school child science principle that with light is made up of many colours. CDMA is also used in domestic style Fibre to the Home or so called Full Fibre connections, using Passive Optical Networking technologies.
Passive Optical Networking
Passive fibre optical networking takes advantage of the fact that fibre is essentially just glass and not only can it can be spiced together in long or short sections it can also have branches where two or more sections of fibre form a junction.
Such junctions are completely passive, requiring no electronics, no electrical power and no cooling. They also take very little space. Here is a real one! Typically these come in 4 8 16 or 32 ways split, and they may be cascaded
For In-Building or Across-Campus networks, this enables not only fibre to be used directly to end users, which in itself provides for a huge reduction in cable bulk but using in tree & branch or ring structures.
Some of you may wonder how the signals are separated from eachother so that they don’t interfere and so that snooping can be avoided. This is where the Multiplexing concepts described earlier come into their own.
CDM techniques employ a scrambling code to the individual channels so that only the designated receiver can use it – just like a mobile phone connection but with far more bandwidth.
WDM techniques work differently by ensuring that the designated colour is routed only to its intended destination using filters that direct the specific colour of light accordingly.
Naturally these have different advantages but they may be combined and used together in different ways according to the need of the end user / device
Broadcast Environment and the Optical Ether Concept – it’s rather like Radio!
The laser light used for fibre communications that travels through fibre is distributed across the fibres. All that is required is to make sure the optical signal has enough power to reach the final destination though the various losses and junctions (something your local friendly optical designer can help you with).
This is just like radio transmission and we might consider the fibre to be a broadcast medium rather like the radio ether and hence the term Optical Ether may be used.
However unlike the radio spectrum each fibre path is isolated from any others so we can have as many optical ethers as we have fibre paths.
Not only that but when networks are physically altered due to office moves etc, there need not be any change to either cables or indeed the electronic devices such as Routers and Firewalls
If you want to change to a different location, just select a different ‘channel’ in your optical fibre. No need to change anything else and signal will arrive there just fine.
If you want to change to a different service or bit rate? No problem – you just need to connect a different NIC to the Channel concerned
If you want more than one Channel? Even that can be achieved and all on the same share fibre.
No need for bulky cable moves or router reconfigurations
An all with a dramatic reduction in cable bulk. It might take you a while to notice but eventually you will find that it’s the fibre that’s carrying the load and ye olde Cat5 is rather redundant.
Fibre to the Desk (or Server/Device)
So the solution for many building owners who do not have the luxury of green field installations in brand new buildings could well be to stop over building those bulky legacy copper networks and Go Fibre – in common with networks across the world
FTTx? Enter Fibre for Buildings & Campuses!