The Evolution of Wired Networks for Digital Consumption

Networks can look to fiber as a viable option that offers proven technology without premium pricing.

In the matter of cost, one prevailing perception when designing networks is that fiber involves a high premium in order to use the same technology that service providers use. This is not unlike when power windows first became available. Years ago, being able to control a car window at the touch of a button was a feature available only in luxury vehicles. Now, this ability is commonplace for virtually all entry-level cars. Millennials who have cranked down a window the old-fashioned way did so in their parent’s or grandparent’s vehicle, but not in their own vehicles. Yet, younger professionals involved in networking planning and design do not think of Passive Optical LAN as an option for evolution. Beyond cost, most network designers (regardless of age) have yet to consider Passive Optical LAN technology.

In a Passive Optical LAN architecture, fiber is used to connect from near the network core to a location close to where devices physically connect. There is another element in the network on the other end of the fiber: the Optical Network Terminal (ONT) or Port Extender. Similar in size and function to the smaller uncooled device that fiber Internet subscribers have in their home, ONTs are available in many configurations, with a combination of ports to support RJ-45 and even registered jack connections for classic telephone, plus options with WiFi. 

As a result, wired devices continue to connect to the network using their conventional cabling, with no added complexity. Wireless access points, too, connect with the same wire they would otherwise use to connect to the wired network. Given its advantages in weight and physical size, deploying fiber to the optimal location of Wireless APs is faster and easier, requires less physical support, and compounds the cost-saving advantages. Density of access points in buildings is increasing not decreasing, making fiber the ideal infrastructure when expanding wireless access capacity in a network.

What about power to devices? Today’s networks have been designed to carry data and also supply required power for many devices. Among the many choices of ONTs, PoE and PoE+ are commonly available, ready to provide power to wireless infrastructure. PoE++ options are also coming to market in 2019. With advances in low-voltage lighting, the digital nature of LED technology brings illumination and IT together, where lighting systems are IoT solutions. The shift to low voltage allows organizations to deploy lighting and future IoT systems at a much lower cost without the need for electricians.

In an environment where everything is connected to everything, security is an important design factor. This is another area in which fiber infrastructure has physical security advantages. Passive Optical LAN is highly secure and produces no EMI radiation, which is typically associated with traditional copper-wired facilities. Passive Optical LAN provides additional security measures at the physical and data layers and at the user port to greatly reduce the potential for Denial of Service (DoS) redirects or other malicious attacks. In short, wiretapping fiber is possible, but much more difficult to do.

When it comes to Passive Optical LAN as a consideration, we know the core of a wired network will not be replaced by wireless the way cars replaced horses. However, the disruption introduced by new 802.11ax and 5G technologies will result in new levels of digital consumption over wireless. The positive news is that network planning and design can—and will—iterate and evolve. Networks can look to fiber as a viable option that offers proven technology without premium pricing. And, when designed and implemented correctly, evolved networks will serve data to devices not yet invented, and so the design cycle will continue.


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