Simplifying fiber installation with smaller fiber cables

Paul Ng / Corning Optical Communications
21 Feb 2018

Today’s data demands have increased significantly with the onset of 5G networks and billions of connected devices driven by the Internet of Things (IoT).

The bandwidth that connected a household five years ago is under enormous pressure to meet the increased broadband appetite of the modern household. A ‘connected-everything’ world means that the pool of web-reliant devices in today’s household has expanded beyond smartphones and laptops to include home appliances and furniture, resulting in a greater number of Internet users adding to the data load.

In a bid to meet the unprecedented demand for robust connectivity, governments, businesses and operators worldwide have been switching from copper-based networks to optical fiber infrastructure. Optical fiber infrastructure has overtaken copper to become the popular standard around the world for supporting high-speed Internet, and the term fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) describes the installation and delivery of optical fiber from a central point directly to the premises. In Singapore, with the proliferation of fiber connectivity, the demand for services provided over legacy copper infrastructure such as ADSL broadband services has declined significantly over the years.

Asia Pacific is a hotbed for FTTH adoption, with most of the world’s fiber subscriptions coming from developed Asia. In Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, more than 60% of broadband subscriptions are running on FTTH infrastructure. China alone had 227.7 million FTTH subscribers at the end of 2016, accounting for 76.6% of all fixed line broadband access subscribers. In 2017, Singapore had 95% FTTH penetration, South Korea 82.9%, Hong Kong 71.4% and Malaysia 16.4%.

In Singapore, the government is pushing for nationwide deployment and adoption of FTTH by waiving installation costs for both residential and commercial buildings. Most buildings in Singapore are already fiber-enabled with building owners given generous subsidies of up to 90% on new in-building infrastructure costs. Taiwan is another country that is completing its nationwide deployment of fiber infrastructure.

Advantages of fiber optics over copper

The high conversion rate to optical fiber is unsurprising given its greater capacity to deliver high speeds than copper-based infrastructure. This is due to optical fiber cables delivering high signal bandwidth and low signal loss resulting in faster data transmission rates.

Fiber optics are also considerably safer and more secure than copper cables. Besides the absence of metal conductors which eliminate the risk of shock hazards, fiber optics do not produce sparks or cause short circuits. The network is also immune to electromagnetic (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI), and does not produce radiation. An added advantage is the difficulty in tapping into the system undetected, providing unparalleled network security.

Overcoming space constraints

Many network operators seeking to roll out advanced FTTH services are challenged by disruptive installation pathways, space constraints, and expensive civil works and deployment costs.

Utilizing the available space efficiently is critical. This means maximizing existing ducts that are already crowded with cables and installing new conduits that support dense fiber deployment to provide the higher data rates and lower latency needed for the expanding subscriber base.

One of the most notable innovations in optical fiber design recently has been the reduction of the outer coating diameter from the established value of ~250 μm down to ~200 μm. The resulting drop in the fiber cross-sectional area of approximately 30% significantly reduces the size of cables, leading to the advent of micro cables with higher fiber density than previously possible.

Fig 1. Conventional cable (left) versus the micro cable which has smaller diameter and higher fiber-density

The smaller size of micro cables allows installers to make the best use of existing ducts that may already be crowded with cables. A crowded duct, that might previously be considered full, can accommodate micro cables into the limited space available and obviate the need to install new ducts. Even if a new duct is necessary, it requires less physical space than before because the smaller micro cables enable smaller microducts so more can be packed in the same array. Smaller diameter, high fiber-density micro cables offer lower duct utilization and high bend-resistance, maximizing pathways and space utilization. This not only allows the operator more headroom to grow capacity in the future, or may even be leased to other operators to generate more revenue immediately. As such, the limited space is used more efficiently and expansion can be achieved without large capital investment or the disruption of re-digging trenches, for example.

With micro cables, the installation process is accelerated by the lightweight nature of micro cables, as they can be stored and transported on smaller, lighter drums that are easier to unload and install.

In Bangkok, telecommunications distributor JUN Thailand was approached by a commercial multi-dwelling unit (MDU) owner to assist with upgrading the building’s aging network. Corning deployed a fiber infrastructure with pre-connectorized FTTH solutions in the 18-story building to meet the building customers’ bandwidth and network speed requirements, completing the FTTH installation within one day with virtually no disruption to tenants and their businesses. Future-ready, fast.

Scalability of fiber infrastructure for the future

For building owners, a key consideration in fiber infrastructure planning is scalability to meet future increases in network speed and bandwidth demand. It’s no easy task to deliver seamless bandwidth capacity every time you need more provisioning and increased service velocity. As technology evolves and we progress into a connected-everything world, scalability ensures the infrastructure is able to deliver growth as needed, without impacting total cost of ownership (TCO).

As the world becomes increasingly digitized and we rely on our connected devices to perform a diverse range of tasks from video-streaming to booking an Uber ride to accessing mission-critical services, the demand for faster and reliable network connectivity is relentless. Micro cabling solves the demand for today’s unlimited bandwidth capacity and addresses escalating network duct congestion. Up to 50% smaller than standard loose tube cables and offering high-fiber-counts in a small cable diameter footprint, micro cables deliver faster possible deployments and time-to-revenue. Operators that need big, well-skilled fiber install teams to roll out their large-scale network deployment projects can now realize significant savings on these expensive resources.

Paul Ng is carrier networks manager for SEA at Corning Optical Communications.

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