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Fiber, Copper & The Digital Revolution


January 17, 2017  


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By Paul Barker

The digital revolution will continue at a torrid pace in 2017 and with it so too will activity in four major technology blocks that make it all possible – the cloud, of course, the data centre, the structured cabling infrastructure side of the equation and finally, telecommunication mobile network advances.

It is a combination of these four that allows the Internet of Things to grow and spread its influence everywhere – be it on a hydro pole or on a manufacturing line. That IoT is not just another over-hyped invention was evident in June when New York City-based 451 Research said that despite the relatively recent emergence of the term, 65% of respondents polled in an IoT quarterly study indicated they currently collect data from equipment, devices or other connected endpoints.

“The term, Internet of Things, has proliferated rapidly and taken on different meanings depending on the audience,” says Dan Harrington, research director at 451 Research. “As is reflected in our survey data, these connected endpoint scenarios are both old and new.

“They vary immensely from traditional use cases such as IP connected cameras, building automation, warehouse automation and telematics to merging industrial use cases such as crop monitoring and remote patient monitoring. Organizations are both enhancing their already connected endpoints with greater capabilities as well as connecting new objects with sensors and circuitry to derive net new value for the business.”

According to Tony Lefebvre, director of product management for Transition Networks, that alone will be “exciting for us cable geeks because there are going to be a lot of devices that are going to be additive to a lot of enterprises.

“First and foremost you see security cameras going in and you are seeing a shift from what used to be analog – where you would have to have coax in place – to digital cameras. You are seeing the storage of the data going away from the PVR and actually placed out in the cloud somewhere, thus you need connectivity for that digital portion.”

With digital cameras becoming more cost-effective, he says, security conscious organizations are upgrading their analog surveillance cameras to get better view quality, remote monitoring and other benefits that IP systems provide.

Another trend, Lefebvre predicts will happen is an influx of more wireless. “Wi-Fi has been around for a while and it’s a good story, but TIA 80211AC is kicking up the bandwidth capability. As much as we get as users, we will take. There always seems to be some application that will use up the bandwidth that we get. Streaming video is a perfect example.

“4G and small cells are finally starting to get some play, they are growing and as we look forward to 2020 and beyond, 5G is going to necessitate some level of mobile access point outdoors, but definitely within a building. Given the frequency and the inability to go through walls, you will see a lot of small mobile access points going in.”

Late last year, research firm IDC estimated that the standard is continuing on its “brisk adoption path” and now accounts for 54.5% of dependent access point unit shipments and 71.3% of dependent access point revenues.

“This represents a noticeably faster adoption rate from 802.11n than what we saw with the 802.11a/b/g to 802.11n transition several years ago,” it said. “Increased demand on enterprise WLANs will continue to be a driving factor in this transition, especially as enterprise mobility use cases proliferate and IoT applications move into the mainstream.”

Infrastructure Predictions: Henry Franc, a solutions specialist with Belden and chair of the TIA TR-42.1 Commercial Building Telecommunications Cabling Engineering Sub-Committee, predicts that 2017 could be the year when discussion about the very standards themselves turns in a new direction.

Franc, who recently spoke at the Connected+ Toronto conference panel on interoperability challenges, said technology advances are coming at everyone so quickly that the thinking from standards professionals may need to change.

Everything that standards bodies work on, he says, is done on the basis that there is a pre-defined application for use. However, today, what exists is the push of technology versus the pull of business.

“Let’s use the example of Category 6A and 10 GbE over copper. Most people say they are designed for the data centre and top-of-row, end-of-row server type switch connections. But in my experience I see them being used in so many other areas. The same thing is going to happen with IoT, whether it’s a result of new wireless protocols or applications such as 5G or the one-pair over Ethernet work.

“There is the technical discussion we need to have with the people who are designing and installing the networks, but for the C-Suite, it is a case of what do you need to consider to enable your business? We don’t want to enable the Wild West for the Internet of Things from an enterprise customer standpoint and force them to redo their infrastructure every two years. That is absolutely impractical.

“Industrial is one of the first users of this one-pair Ethernet, whether it is in-car or in a manufacturing facility. Although there was some initial resistance to it within the TIA commercial building people, there was also some openness and recognition that the world is changing and the pace of change keeps increasing. We are aware of it.”

Meanwhile, Jim Davis, regional marketing engineer with Fluke Networks, says the “shiny new toy that everybody wants to hear about” is Category 8.

“That is actually where there is some news. During the course of this year, the TIA 568 standard was published that included the Category 8 performance.”

However, what the standard did not include, says Davis, was the documentation that defined the performance of the field test equipment and defined what tests are going to run in the field.

“They compare field test results to vector network analyzers, it’s a laboratory piece of equipment, and they do that because when the field test equipment says we have measured so much NEXT at such frequency, they want to see if that test is accurate. What we were waiting for was the TIA 1152 standard that would define what the accuracy requirements are for the Category 8 testers. It was approved by the TIA and it is going to be published.

“I am confident that during the course of next year we will start to see the first product become available and once we have product we will have the callout for testing and we are going to be ready for that.”

Rightfully so, Davis is not about to make a prediction on how it will ultimately fare.

“It’s hard to say whether date centres will jump on top of Category 8 or not,” he says. “I feel and many people have told me that likely there will be a continued move to fiber.”

Still, one of the first vendors to launch Cat 8 product is Optical Cable Corp. (OCC), which is predicting that the cable will play a major role in meeting today’s burgeoning needs for high-speed communications, whether in the data centre, voice, video or other high bandwidth applications that run on copper cable for distances up to 30 meters.

To ensure that Category 8 adopters will effectively reach data speeds of up to 40 Gb/s – four times the speeds of many of today’s users, the company recently announced that it had launched a new RJ-45 plug with integral circuit board technology that provides advanced control of crosstalk, return loss, and other impediments, ensuring consistent performance at higher frequencies up to 2000 MHz.

“Prior to the introduction of the product cable engineers viewed the challenge of transmitting data at rates of up to four times faster over a standard RJ-45 connector as a major concern,” the company stated.

The new RJ-45 plug model is fully backward compatible with existing RJ-45 infrastructure used by a majority of Ethernet connection ports, including Cat 6A, Cat 6 and Cat 5e cabling. It is field installable, and should be familiar to many cable installers, OCC said.

As for the ongoing fiber vs. copper debate, there is no question that the latter has plenty of life left. Lefebvre says that while fiber probably makes sense in a Greenfield environment, copper is and likely always will be needed.

A case in point, he says, is that very few devices be it a personal computer, camera, access point or IoT gateway are equipped with a fiber interface.

“The other good reason for using some level of copper at least in the last few feet is PoE. We are seeing a bigger and bigger uptick in PoE where we will bring fiber and use that as a vertical distribution and get the distance and the bandwidth to a hub and from there we will split off and run copper.”

Data Centre Dialogue: International Data Corporation (IDC) Canada recently announced the release of a new report assessing data centre operations vendors in Canada. IDC MarketScape: Canadian Data Centre Operations and Management 2016 Vendor Assessment assesses Canadian data centre providers’ ability to help Canadian companies migrate from corporate-run, on-premise facilities to third- party centres and hybrid environments, in addition to a vendor’s facility features.

The research firm reported that companies have little appetite for investing in their own new and existing data centre facilities, as there are currently less corporate-run data centres than there were in 2014, and floor space has shrunk by 7.5%.

“Technology leaders have decided that instead of continuing to throw good money at their own facilities, they are beginning to shift workloads to commercial hosting vendors that offer colocation, managed hosting, and cloud services.”

Key results of the report include:

* IBM, Telus, HPE, Cogeco Peer 1, Q9, Rogers, CenturyLink, Equinix, and OVH earned the distinction of placing in the Leaders category.

* SunGard, Bell, Long View, Carbon60, CentriLogic, Cologix, Shaw, 4Degrees, and TeraGo distinguished themselves by placing in the Major Players category.

*  Over the past three years, Canada has seen a build out of over one million square feet of data centre space, and well in excess of 100MW of power added to the market.

*  Over the past 24 months, the needs of a data centre have continued to increase. Data generated from corporate systems, mobile devices, and Internet of Things (IoT) networks continue to grow at a pace of 50% per year. Digital technologies such as analytics, social business platforms, and high performance computing put an ever-increasing stress on the best-in-class data centres.

“The direction of the market is very clear,” said Mark Schrutt, vice president, services and enterprise applications. “CIOs and technology leaders are shifting away from corporate-run data centres and placing workloads at commercial providers and taking a cloud-first approach to new systems and software. Right now the majority of businesses are not shifting wholesale to cloud, but migrating towards a combination of data centre and cloud technologies, which opens up a large but competitive marketplace to data centre operations and cloud vendors in Canada.”C+