The Smart, Connected Building | Corning

By Piers Benjamin - EMEA In Building Networks (IBN) Marketing Manager at Corning Optical Communication
Appearing in Cable Vision in Middle East September 2019

The importance of Connectivity Infrastructure in Business

The world of commercial real estate is irrevocably changing. From offices to retail structures, the most important factors when considering commercial buildings are no longer physical attributes such as location, aesthetics, and amenities. Instead, advances in technology have emerged as key differentiators between effective and ineffective infrastructures.

While the pace of change for technology is rapid, transformation within commercial real estate is slow. Emerging technologies, such as 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT), are poised to disrupt conventional approaches to commercial infrastructure and create winners and losers. Former Class A buildings may no longer be able to command Class A tenants. As the revolution continues, individuals across industries are recognizing the need for commercial buildings to have holistically equipped network capabilities. In a digitally driven age, connectivity has become the lifeblood of all modern businesses.

LAN must support increasing Demands

Improvements in technology have produced countless services and applications for maintaining a business. Mobility, building automation, asset management, security, digital signage, eCommerce, and more have all accompanied the evolution of modern business.

However, it is not enough for businesses to simply possess and utilize digital amenities. Growth amongst myriad industries has necessitated business entities to pursue faster networks to reap the rewards of digital enterprise. Video streaming is likely the largest driver of bandwidth increases in the LAN (Local Area Network) in the typical applications of voice, data, and video; however, an additional factor driving network traffic is the transition to cloud-based services.

The shift to cloud-based services has placed pressure on the network to route massive amounts of data. Network congestion invariably reduces a network’s quality of service. While demands placed on the network are fairly predictable and manageable, formidable applications such as 5G, IoT or machine learning have begun to evolve in the network as well. Their development underscores network infrastructure as an important area to not only maintain but improve within businesses.

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  Services, applications and technologies demand smart, connected buildings  

Massive network infrastructure is necessary to interconnect, provide pathways, power condition, and preserve the disparate services that come with disparate networks. Case in point, connectivity is increasingly stressed where the devices and users are at the edge of the network. A single-purpose infrastructure to support a single application, the traditional approach to structured cabling, is no longer an efficient and effective method. Ultimately, the speeds required in the future network will outpace what a traditional network can handle. As IoT devices are added to the network, there is also a risk that different network layers will clog pathway space throughout buildings. Add the hindrances of aging facilities, packed telecom rooms, and restrictions on above-ceiling work, one can see why it is critically important to design, build, and maintain a LAN structured for the needs of today with the ability to adjust for a future with minimal impact to facilities.

Fiber to the horizontal supports multiple applications

Smart networks need to be reliable, redundant, and resilient. As fiber infrastructure evolves to meet increasing demands for more dependable networks, traditional copper networks are becoming severely outmoded. Copper networks have limitations on speed, distance, and reliability. Traditional structured wiring requires a proliferation of cabling in the horizontal pathway, creating congestion that is hard to manage over time. With 400 or more cables in a ceiling, it is likely that a variety of contractors and end-users have added and/or removed wiring over the years. This typically contributes to significant clutter and makes improvements in network infrastructure even more challenging to implement. Therefore, using large quantities of horizontal copper cables may not be the best way to distribute data throughout businesses – and it certainly will not be able to support tomorrow’s technologies.

Fiber infrastructure, however, is future flexible and easily supports multiple services and applications.

Fiber not only provides virtually unlimited capacity, but it is also the ideal media to converge multiple applications and services such as voice, data, and video. This approach empowers multiple stakeholders within a building – including the owner, tenants and service providers – to access a single infrastructure to deploy the applications they need or prefer.

To be clear, there is still a place for copper in smart, connected building infrastructures. Copper remains a compelling media for the last point-to-point connection to a device. However, limitations of copper solutions in bandwidth, power handling, and distance mean networks should be designed to push the fiber-to-copper transition point deeper into the network. The key to smart, connected commercial buildings is a network infrastructure designed in an intelligent manner, and perhaps nothing can accomplish this more straightforwardly than when businesses utilize optical fiber.

Passive Optical LAN is useful in enterprise environments

More and more businesses prefer optical fiber to copper networks given its benefits in enterprise environments. A passive optical network (PON) is a fiber optic network that does not require active components for signal distribution and replaces the aggregation electronics and associated copper cables in a traditional switch-based architecture with passive optical splitters and single-mode fibers (SMF). This creates an architecture that is lower in cost to purchase, install and maintain – and with a far longer life span – than traditional copper architectures.

Passive Optical LAN (POL) is the application of passive optical network (PON) technology in a local area network environment. There are four things to look for in passive optical networks. First, one must ensure splitter technology integrates seamlessly into the enterprise. Corning designed a POL solution specifically for local area networks. The optical splitters integrate directly into a wall-and rack-mountable hardware.

Second, one must choose optical splitters that are proven to be reliable. POL promised a long-term solution to meet future bandwidth requirements, without having to repeatedly replace the existing horizontal infrastructure, when it was first introduced almost ten years ago as a replacement for a traditional active Ethernet architecture. While PONs were originally created to provide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) or fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP), their advantages soon became apparent in end-user access applications. Thus, there is a marked progression into the fiber-to-the-desktop solutions in use today.

Last, one must leverage band-insensitive fiber technology and match a chosen installation method to a building’s design requirements. POL can address many issues of today’s traditional network topology. POL is especially useful in enterprise environments, like office buildings and campuses, which require cabling system infrastructures with higher density and ongoing moves, additions, and changes.

POL’s basic design and characteristics

POL was devised to best serve enterprise environments, and to recognize POL’s basic design and characteristics is essential to understanding its benefits for businesses. The topology is point-to-multipoint using single-mode fiber (SMF) as the cabling infrastructure, thus delivering the advantages of distance and density. The central component is an optical line terminal (OLT) that functions as a fiber aggregation switch and provides full Layer 2 functionality. The optical network terminals (ONTs) are edge devices that convert the SMF handoff to the copper-based connectivity required by the end-user devices

SMF cabling is thinner, lighter, more flexible, crush-resistant, and has a greater tensile strength than copper category cabling. Resistance to corrosion and to electromagnetic interference have made fiber optics the preferred cabling infrastructure in modern networks. There has been a clear progression in the use of SMF as a backhaul infrastructure to premises connectivity, vertical cabling applications, and even now the horizontal cabling solution. With all of these benefits, the single greatest attribute is its bandwidth capability, which has been described as limitless. SMF cabling used in today’s POLs has enough potential bandwidth to support the next five generation of LAN speeds. Furthermore, today’s SMF infrastructure has enough available capacity installed to support those speeds by simply changing network hardware.

The OLT and ONTs make up all active components. POL provides flexible mounting, powering, and Power over Ethernet (PoE) options. The ONT powering can be served with both local and remote powering options, including battery backup. The passive infrastructure compromises SMF, passive optical splitters, and the cable management accessories used to house the splitters and distribute the fiber. Splitters are the centerpiece of the passive portion of a POL and manufactured with numerous split and housing options.

  Passive Optical LAN Topologies  

The convergence of passive and active components into a turnkey solution differentiates POL from legacy point-to-point copper-based LAN. Fundamentally, POL moves the Ethernet edge out of a closet and closer to the end-user devices. This topology creates a large LAN footprint. In contrast to fiber-based LAN, due to performance characteristics of today’s copper category cabling, traditional copper-based LAN has a distance limitation of 100 meters. This limitation restricts deployment options as end-user devices must be placed within 100 meters of the nearest network switches or telecom closet.

There is stark difference between copper and fiber cabling. The use of SMF in a POL creates a LAN footprint of just 20 kilometers, and allows multistory buildings, multiple buildings, or even an entire campus to function as a LAN on just one OLT. This approach eliminates the need for aggregated network switches and privacy. In addition, this approach provides environmental support. POL reduces space requirements, overall cable load, telecom closet expenses such as power and cooling, and simplifies operation by centralizing LAN management.

POL’s advantages

In comparison with point-to-point copper-based LAN, there are extensive benefits derived from POL’s advantages, and they are diverse in their significance across several different vertical applications:

  • The distance advantage of POL will reduce or eliminate most of the telecom closets including racks, grounding, cable trays, sleeves, fire stopping, among others. Doing away with closets and local switches frees up valuable space and creates a reduction in power consumption, natively and through the elimination of heating, ventilation and air condition (HVAC) or chillers.
  • The density advantage of POL will provide multiple horizontal fibers from a single switch port, multiple ports from a single fiber-cable connection, and a 50-to-70 percent reduction in structured cabling. This translates to less stress load on the building and less footprint in plenum ceiling space.
  • The security advantage of POL comes from SMF being a more-secure medium than copper cabling, and ONTs being inherently secure because they are designed with no local management access.
  • The future-readiness advantage of using SMF as the structured cabling will provide a greater return on invest (ROI) on the initial capital investment as it extends the lifespan of the cable plant from 5-7 years to 25-plus years. Additionally, facilitating network upgrades by swapping edge electronics instead of ripping and/or replacing the cable plant eliminates the requirement for above-ceiling work.
  Passive Optical LAN Topologies  

POL Adapts

A smart, connected building eschews traditional single-purpose networks for an intelligent and converged infrastructure. The benefits of a connected commercial building span from better space utilization and tenant satisfaction, to improved sustainability and lowered risk of repair, and even reduced capital expenditures and operational expenses. However, it is not the streamlined convenience of POL’s converged network capabilities that create benefits for businesses and spark future-forward outlooks. It is how POL adapts to meet future challenges that largely determine the rewards reaped by businesses. At its onset, POL came with a unique set of trials before it could deploy in an enterprise network. Powering was one such trial, solved by using remote powering solutions that make powering digital enterprise with POL a non-issue. POL must adapt to the future as technology continues to evolve and new platforms are enabled. Businesses must also respond to the challenges presented by demand – and therefore need – for widespread connectivity. Investing in quality fiber matters, it is the foundation that both sustains and connects modern businesses around the world.