Connecting Devices at the Edge
By Piers Benjamin
Published: January 26, 2023
The continued rise in computing power and the explosion of technologies spurred by the Internet of Things (IoT) have driven demands for internet connectivity through the roof. Recent forecasts project the number of devices for per person to double by 2030. As a result, we’ve seen fiber make its way further into the horizontal LAN, but also in more specialist deployments such as government environments.
Now, with the rise of real-time applications that need processing at the edge—such as security, telecommunications, life-safety, and building automation systems—businesses of all kinds are seeing the need to migrate data workloads deeper into the network. IP cameras and security devices in particular are now common throughout indoor and outdoor spaces but may be located at considerable distances from existing telecom rooms or a PoE-based switch.
This can challenge an exclusively twisted-pair copper infrastructure from standpoints of distance, bandwidth, pathway space, and flexibility. Furthermore, when it comes to high-speed transmission and capacity, copper cables are reaching their limit. Traditional structured wiring also requires a proliferation of cabling in the horizontal pathway, creating network congestion that is hard to manage over time.
With the added hindrances of aging installations and packed telecom rooms, it is critically important to develop a LAN that meets current and future demands with minimal impact to facilities. Fiber is the obvious solution for connecting end devices in the LAN; this can be achieved directly or via equipment like media converters or optical network terminals (ONTs) in point-to-point or point-to-multipoint passive optical networks.
Fiber to the edge (FTTE) is ideal for businesses that need high capacity and flexibility in their network. Optical fiber delivers the high bandwidth, low latency, reach, and flexibility required to meet the demands of developing applications like next-gen Wi-Fi, high-availability AV, and 5G within a single building or across a large campus. Fiber enables numerous devices over multiple floors to connect via a single cable that can reach back to a common central point.
Key elements of FTTE
Like every enterprise IT network, an FTTE-based LAN is comprised of active (routers, switches, etc.) and passive (cables, connectors, etc.) components. The most important elements are:
- Long reach, flexible power and data
- Intelligent remote-power solutions
- Ending “rip-and-replace” network planning
In a traditional enterprise LAN IT architecture, data is transmitted either entirely by copper or through a combination of a fiber backbone plus copper to the edge, requiring equipment closets, or IDFs, throughout the network. An FTTE architecture is fully optical, with optical fiber carrying all data transmission. This allows the network to operate from a central equipment room, or main distribution frame (MDF), eliminating the need for intermediate distribution frames (IDFs) and reducing power and cooling expenses in the process. The extremely high bandwidth enabled by an FTTE architecture makes it possible to wirelessly operate many edge devices, reducing the need for individual wiring and porting.
Power for an FTTE-based LAN is best supplied using composite cabling, which contains both fiber and copper. This leverages the bandwidth capabilities of single-mode fiber and the powering capabilities of copper to deliver both data and power to devices at the edge of the network. Composite cable can take up much less space, enabling greater capacity for future upgrades as well as reduced maintenance costs.
This architecture will also be key for enabling the next generations of Wi-Fi. Building upon the current sixth generation of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6E is starting to become more prevalent and offers an extension of this standard to the 6GHz band, greatly reducing network congestion. Wi-Fi 7, the next generation, should be with us within the next few years.
To accommodate these standards, building owners must pull additional category cable: Wi-Fi 6E requires up to 10G of data and Wi-Fi 7 maxes out at 40G. This can be supplied with four Cat-6A cables with a distance limitation of 90m, or with one composite cable with much greater capacity.
Another capability of fiber-deep design is remote powering. A power supply unit is a straightforward solution that can be stacked up based on the number of devices required. The ports can also be split depending on the PoE requirements, the total budget, and distance away from the endpoint. There are many long-range solutions that can support devices on the perimeter of a property—even across distances of over 600 metres.
High and low-voltage power can be delivered directly to end devices such as interactive AV displays, and in other cases to smaller PoE switches for nearby access points, smart lighting, and IoT devices via short-category jumpers.
If a device doesn’t feature a fiber input/output—a security camera, for example—equipment such as media converters can change the signal from optical to electrical and connect to the device with a short copper patch cord. There are many cost-effective solutions on the market that can support 10G speeds and offer backward compatibility to handle 1G or 2.5G.
A future-ready network
While there is still a place for copper in connected building infrastructure, physical limitations of bandwidth, power handling, and transmission distance mean networks should be designed to push the copper-to-fiber transition point deeper into the network or to the edge.
At Corning, we’re putting this into practice with an operational FTTE network at our global headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. The network features more than 460 fiber runs leaving the Main Distribution Frame in a single room and spanning the six floors.
FTTE gives us a future-flexible infrastructure ready to deliver connectivity, virtually unlimited bandwidth, and thousands of watts of safer power throughout a building. By reducing the space needed for network equipment and converging multiple networks into one, the impact on resources is minimized. From lower HVAC costs from equipment cooling to less total cable volume, it can all help make a difference.
To learn more about Fiber to the Edge, click here.