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A Look Forward (December 01, 2000)

Was Y2K a prosperous one for the structured cabling industry? What is around the corner for 2001? For this second annual feature, Cabling Systems rounded up some the best and brightest in the Canadian structured cabling and telecommunications arena and asked them for their insights.Here, Steve Spooner of Stream Intelligent Networks Corp., Selim Soussa of NORDX/CDT, Bill St. Arnaud of CANARIE, Dan Milliard of Group Telecom and Bart Leung of Ehvert Engineering share their views on the year behind us and their predictions for the year to come.

December 1, 2000  

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A fiber-rich diet

By Steve Spooner

The beginning of the new millennium offers us the opportunity to look back in time as well as into the future. At the opening of the nineties, Canadians began to warmly welcome the Internet into their homes and into their places of work and learning. At the close, new ways of communicating and gathering information were already second nature to us, with at least half* of the population connected to the Internet at home or through the workplace.

What will the next millennium bring? We can be certain that new and exciting applications and technologies will continue to change our lives in ways that are as yet unforeseen. As Canadian requirements for technology continue to grow exponentially, technology advancements must also evolve to meet these expectations.

With the advent of cellular and pcs telephones, and the shift from traditional communications to e-mail, a dramatic change has taken place in the way we communicate. Add to this the growing mobility of young and old in the workplace, the home and beyond, and Canada is ripe to enter the connected age.

Into the Future

Developing a vision for the future of telecommunications, in a world in which technology life cycles are measured in months and product life cycles in weeks, is an uncertain exercise. Legacy telecom architecture based on paired copper conductors has proven its ability to deliver voice and low speed data services. The advent of Digital Subscriber Line Technology (DSL) has further extended the life of copper assets.

The latest generation DSL can offer data transmission at speeds to 8 Mbps under ideal conditions. Unfortunately, ideal conditions are found only in close proximity to the serving Central Office or in a laboratory environment. As a result, DSL subscribers enjoy much less bandwidth than advertised — now typically less than 1 Mbps. While this represents a big improvement over dial-up modem service, DSL is unable to offer sufficient bandwidth for emerging applications such as convergence services (video and voice) or the next generation of intelligent services.

Technology has pushed copper capability to the limit, and the basic laws of physics make further improvement unlikely. The time is now ripe to leap-frog the legacy capabilities of traditional telco and cable-based networks. A broadband medium such as fiber must become the architecture of choice for new networks in order to meet growing bandwidth requirements. And to transport the many services that will be available to users in future, Internet Protocol (IP) must be the venue of choice.

An IP-based fiber solution will best meet the needs of Canadians in the 21st century, whether they are at work or at home. These developments in network architecture are a crucial step to ensuring that Canadians can continue to compete on the global scene.

Realizing the Vision

What will make this vision become a reality? The much-heralded convergence of voice, data and image is almost upon us and is creating an insatiable demand from both businesses and consumers for greater bandwidth. In addition, a greater supply of fiber cable, coupled with declining technology costs, will fuel the beginning of this transition in the next two to three years. With current telco and cable ventures unlikely to abandon their existing networks, there is a market opportunity for private industry or for hydro utilities to fill the gap.

Each home or business could be connected with a dedicated fiber connection capable of offering speeds to the gigabit level and beyond, and accommodating the technologies of the future. This provides more than enough bandwidth for concurrent entertainment, communications, Internet access and e-mail. As well, specialized services such as security and surveillance can all be provided economically with this architecture.

The heart of the network within each home or business would be an interface device that would terminate the fiber and provide a housing and interface service specific module, such as a local IP based voice telephony module, an entertainment module, a gigabit data module or other service specific device. The primary function of this device would be to provide the conversion from the optical to the desired interface for the services offered. Initially, these devices would also support existing technologies.

The device could be installed adjacent to the hydro panel. This offers a considerable advantage, as existing telecommunications and cable TV wiring is usually co-located with the panel and power would be readily accessible. Each device would also be equipped with “smart card” technology to provide a unique address and ensure security of services.

This vision is not far fetched. All of the elements are available with today’s technology. Market demand will trigger the integration of these technologies and their packaging into a “box,” suitable for widespread deployment. This, in turn, will lower the price point to a level attractive to small business and consumers.

While the winners of the coming revolution in network architecture will be millions of individual connected homes and businesses, Canada, as a whole, will also win. We will continue to enjoy telecommunications leadership in a global market.

*According to StatsCan’s 1999 Household Internet Use Survey, 41.8% of Canadian households had at least one regular Internet user at the end of 1999. In terms of actual individuals, most analysts and pollsters conservatively estimate that more than one individual in the household uses the Internet. One firm has averaged out other analyst estimates for Internet use for the end of 2000 and came out with 50%.

Steve Spooner is the President and CEO of Stream Intelligent Networks Corp., a leading provider of intra-city high-speed data networking services in Canada.

The digital revolution

By Selim Soussa

The digital world is here and it has forced a revolution on the telecommunications industry. Digitalization of every bit of information — voice, data, imaging and full motion video — triggered this revolution, and it is the catalyst for an ever-accelerating electronics industry. But digitalization alone will not sustain the need for change.

Since the LAN, WAN and MAN eras of the 1980s, memory capacity has snowballed from kilobytes to terabytes. IC processing speed has skyrocketed from just a few megahertz to 750 MHz and is climbing. The Internet has reached the masses. In five years’ time, all companies will be Internet companies or they won’t be companies at all.* Yet today’s transmission speeds are not enough to satisfy the demanding and growing expectations of consumers and businesses.

1999 was a turning point in cabling standards history. The new Category 5e standard brought us great increases in transmission speed and now the 200 MHz bandwidth milestone is within sight. We are pushing the limits of copper physics — a technology that some predicted would die 10 years ago. We are expanding the performance envelope. Today, we can truly say we are transmitting on copper at the speed of light — at the speed of fiber.

Towards The “LANTERNET”

The time is coming when we will see the realization of what I call the “LANTERNET”, which will combine LAN and Internet benefits, and provide the best of both speed and reach. But storage capacity and processing speed are almost useless if a third crucial element does not exist — a big enough pipeline through which we can transmit the information (i.e., bandwidth or carrying capacity — the superhighway).

The telecom revolution depends on the physical infrastructure of the information superhighway. Several major players in the structured cabling industry are building and enhancing this infrastructure.

We can anticipate a fourfold increase in copper transmission capacity and speed within just a few years. Within ten years copper will offer 10 Gigabits, handling both backbone and horizontal applications.

On the other hand, fiber’s potential remains relatively unknown. Its anticipated dazzling growth has been slowed
by its less than expected bandwidth capacity and the limited cost-effectiveness of related electronic components.

Based on this knowledge, it seems that both copper and fiber will live happily together, responding to different application needs for the foreseeable future. And even if fiber’s capacity increases and its use becomes more widespread, copper’s installed base will stay higher for a long time.

What limits the carrying capacity of copper and fiber is not their nature or the structured cabling concept; the limit to their capacity is the electronic components currently available.

New Application Needs

You can compare the structured cabling concept to a superhighway, with applications as the cars, buses, trucks and motorcycles that make up the traffic flow. The superhighway is built to handle very heavy traffic, just as structured cabling systems are designed to support the great and various demands of the applications. The following elements are driving the growth of cabling capacity/the superhighway:

The increasing number of users on the network (more commuters);

The enhanced user-friendliness of the applications (bigger cars and trucks);

The higher performance that new applications need to run (more luxury features).

As an example, we have gone from a few low-res black and white video monitors to hi-res colour almost everywhere and now to 3-D digital video at many work stations. This has necessitated a phenomenal increase in the throughput capacity and an improvement to the reliability of all the network elements and the electronics that depend on them. And these improvements are nothing compared to the impending needs of advanced tele-medecine, engineering design and other new technologies that will require huge increases in data transmission capacity.

These current, emerging and projected needs make us realize the limitations of today’s wireless technology. The network reliability and demands of future applications will dwarf today’s capacity. The exciting new vehicles on the superhighway require absolute data integrity and a capacity beyond the ability of current wireless technology. Moreover, as “office” and “residential” uses begin to blend, the need for more bandwidth and more speed will not be limited to traditional business environments. Competitive local exchange carriers will talk “high density” and “very rapid deployment.”

The structured cabling industry will remain the central pillar of high-technology deployment. Its high-speed, custom-designed and value-added cabling products define the superhighway. The growing capacity, reliability and cost-effectiveness of structured copper cabling will allow the Internet to grow and the digital revolution to continue.

*The Economist (June 26-July 2, 1999) survey of e-business, quoting the CEO of Intel.

Selim Soussa is Executive Vice-President, Sales and Marketing for NORDX/CDT in Pointe-Claire, QC. He has 30 years of experience in the telecommunications industry and has held a variety of sales and marketing positions during that time.

Looking toward the future

By Bart Leung

In looking toward the future of the cabling industry and trying to project the technology trends of tomorrow, I am reminded of classic 1950s programs and commercials showing the “world of the future”. You know the ones — they predicted supersonic travel, the microwave, the servant robots and the anti-gravity cars.

So when faced with the subject of trying to predict the future of our industry, where does one look for insight and inspiration? Being an electrical engineer by training, I tend to look to ‘first principles’. What do we know? What is current fact? What are the factors that can affect the status quo? What is the time frame that we are measuring against?

Let’s take a look at the current day. Proposed Category 6 is still not ratified. Substantial work has been done to refine the standard, but more is still needed. Ethernet gigabit standards have been developed and implemented, and can now be seen in many network backbones, but the cost of the network hardware is still prohibitive to the implementation of gigabit down to the desktop level.

Most companies have completed the conversion of their networks to 10/100-megabit Ethernet to the desktop. The majority of commercial office spaces have been cabled to Category 5 UTP standards, as a minimum. As new installations are typically using this standard, Category 5e — which is capable of supporting gigabit transmissions — is becoming more prevalent. Multimode fiber is in wide use in LAN backbone applications and singlemode fiber is widely used in MAN and WAN applications.

Disturbing the Status Quo

What factors can change the current status quo? The “need for speed”, or bandwidth, depending on how you look at it, has been a major argument contributing to the concept of pulling fiber to the desktop. PCs are faster and more powerful than ever before, while the Internet is becoming more stable and viable as a global networking platform.

At the application layer, application delivery solutions are getting “thinner”. The Application Service Provider (ASP) model is gradually taking shape in the United States and making inroads into Canada. Companies are starting to consider these thin client solutions and some are already starting to outsource their traditional network management to third parties. Data transmission is evolving into a utility model. Much like electricity, water and gas for your home, corporate LAN/WAN connectivity and data transmission is evolving into another utility. This evolution will only further drive the implementation of thin client solutions.

What does this mean for the world of cabling? We have all heard about the concept of fiber to the desktop for years now, but is now the time? Studies that I have recently completed show that once the cost of electronics is factored into the solutions, the fiber model is still cost prohibitive and yields very little benefit for the increase in cost. There is also substantial work needed to further define the standards around data transmission on fiber, beyond the backbone environment.

Getting Up to Speed

What about the future? What about the “need for speed”? Don’t we need fiber to the desktop for greater speed and bandwidth? I would say that it depends, but chances are that we do not. This may differ from a lot of other opinions in the industry, but let me give you my reasons.

If installed and tested properly, the current Category 5e products will support Gigabit Ethernet. We will probably see its arrival at the desktop level within the next few years. If the adoption of thin client networking grows, this will potentially delay the arrival of gigabit to the desktop. In addition, once the proposed Category 6 standard is ratified, it will provide us with standard products with even more headroom.

One of the largest steady contributors to the undertaking of cabling projects in Canada is turnover, or “churn”, of space. This rate varies from industry to industry. For example, it is typically very low in education markets, as once an infrastructure is installed, there is little change to the layout or configuration of the space. It can be quite high in the commercial office environment. As an example, there is a national bank in Canada which experiences an average churn rate of three years — this means that over a three-year period it renovates every square foot of space that it occupies across the country.

The “churn” rate can be a major factor in considering cabling solutions for any client. If an end user is renovating space every three to four years, we are at least that far away from having any broad standards for fiber to the desktop, given the time it has taken for the proposed Category 6 standard.

The headroom available on the Category 5e and 6 products, coupled with the churn rate, gives the end user the opportunity to wait a little longer before moving to fiber to the desktop. This will give the industry a chance to standardize on a connector and a fiber type. Fiber is still a key element in the solut
ion arsenal of any structured cabling designer, however it must be considered from a ‘first principles’ basis for each project.

Bart Leung, P.Eng., RCDD, is a Senior Associate with Ehvert Technology Services, a leading infrastructure design and technology services company in Toronto. He has over 10 years of experience in the consulting industry and participates in several industry focus groups.

Customer-empowered optical networks

By Bill St. Arnaud

The advent of a technology called Dense Wave Division Multiplexing, or DWDM, is about to revolutionize telecommunications. Basically, DWDM allows an optical fiber to simultaneous carry multiple wavelengths, or “colours” of light. Recent product announcements from telecommunications equipment vendors have seen the channel capacities of DWDM products increase from two and four channels up to 16, and lately in excess of 100 channels.

The greatest impact of DWDM will likely result from the fact that it supports (by virtue of the vast number of independent wavelengths created on a single bundle of fibers) the customers’ ability to use or control — in effect to “own” — their own individual wavelengths. This, in turn, will allow individual customers to build their own private optical networks.

Nevertheless, as it is being implemented by traditional carriers, DWDM has not yet changed the fundamental architecture of the network and is therefore not being set up to enable the creation of customer-empowered networks. In most cases, carrier networks based on DWDM remain a circuit-oriented service that is optimized to carry voice traffic. Optical wavelengths have replaced SONET/SDH channels or ATM circuits, but the issues that have always challenged engineers, such as path set-up, tear-down signalling, restoration and protection are still being addressed in the traditional way. The network, though more efficient as a result of DWDM technology, is still designed as the infrastructure of a common carrier offering network services to its customers.

Such need not be the case with new DWDM networks called “Optical Internets”. The defining characteristic of an Optical Internet based on DWDM is that network link layer connections are “dedicated” wavelengths, directly connected to a high-performance network router. In such a configuration, the high-performance network router replaces traditional ATM and SONET/SDH switching and multiplexing equipment. The result is a “connectionless” network, optimized for the unique characteristics of Internet traffic.

Currently, the architectures of most Optical Internets are dependent on the DWDM architectures deployed by the major carriers. Recently, however, the availability of “dark” fiber is allowing ISPs and regional network operators to deploy their own Optical Internets — independent of the networks operated by the major carriers.

Gaining Distance

Until quite recently, most ISPs or regional networks could not take advantage of this fiber for distances in excess of 10 to 15 km. SONET transport terminals with expensive long reach lasers were necessary to provide the reach and reliability required for long haul backbones. However, today many data equipment manufacturers are including long range lasers on Gigabit Ethernet switches and on the new 10xGigabit Ethernet devices. With these devices, service providers can reach up to 120 km without repeaters on dark fiber strands.

The attraction of using Ethernet as the framing standard for regeneration is that it is a data protocol that is familiar to most LAN engineers and administrators. Deploying an Optical Internet with Ethernet framing does not require specialized skills or knowledge of SONET/SDH networks and services. More importantly, with restoral and protection carried out at layer 3 on multiple paths, the reliability of the transceivers does not have to be of the same level as for traditional SONET regenerators.

In addition to the availability of dark fiber and the deployment of Gigabit and 10Gigabit Ethernet technology, a third development is fuelling the shift away from carrier networks. A new form of wave division multiplexing called Coarse Wave Division Multiplexing (CWDM) is allowing small ISPs and regional networks to deploy their own multi-wavelength systems. This technology is much less expensive than DWDM, and uses such wide spacing between the wavelengths that the requirements for laser stability and narrow passband filters are not as stringent as they are for DWDM systems.

In many ways, it is CWDM technology and 10xGigabit Ethernet, combined with easy access to dark fiber, that could enable the creation of “Customer Empowered Optical Networks”. The underlying technology of such networks would be very similar to LAN technology, which would allow them to be managed by LAN operators with no SONET or optical networking experience. For the first time, LANs could be taken out of the office and extended into the countryside. The significant cost savings associated with these changes, coupled with the flexibility and freedom in network architectures they support, provide a pathway towards a network of the future.

Extending to Home and School

Traditionally, the cost of installing new broadband facilities in the local loop, especially to the home, has been considered so high that there simply has been no business case for it. Conventional wisdom has been that until demand for such services is generated, adaptation of the legacy networks through cable modems and various DSL services is the best that can be achieved. Although fiber has been taken closer and closer to the neighbourhoods, the business case for taking the final, costly step has remained elusive.

Schools, libraries and universities are some of the biggest consumers of Internet services. And as multimedia instruction, educational streaming video and other services become increasingly popular, the demand for higher speed Internet access might well become insatiable.

In anticipation of this potential demand for high bandwidth, a number of municipalities across Canada and around the world are deploying dark fiber networks for use by schools and other organizations. These dark fiber networks connect to ISPs for Internet service. They also connect to other “customer-owned” wavelengths on longer-haul networks for interconnection to similar dark fiber networks in other municipalities. In essence, these new networks are extending the Internet model of autonomous peering networks to the optical domain.

The development of “customer empowered” networks has the potential to repeat the personal computer revolution of twenty years ago. These technologies and these networks represent a tremendous market opportunity for Canadian equipment manufacturers and next-generation carriers.

Bill St. Arnaud is Senior Director of Network Projects for CANARIE Inc., Canada’s advanced Internet development organization. He has led the development, coordination and implementation of the world’s first national optical R&D network — CA*net 3.

The future belongs to fiber

By Dan Milliard

The year 2000 has been a banner year for the Canadian economy, with the growth and expansion of small and medium businesses headlining the list of economic achievements. Coupled with this boom has been an increased demand for physical space and technology innovation. Thankfully, both issues will be addressed simultaneously throughout the course of the coming year.

Downtown revitalization is a phrase currently being bandied about by municipalities eager to draw small and medium businesses back to the urban core. Various re-development projects in Canada’s urban centres have served to repopulate older industrial buildings that have been abandoned with the demise of the Industrial Revolution and resuscitated with the emergence of the Internet economy. According to a study conducted by the City of Toronto, office vacancy rates have seen a steady decline over the past five years as small and medium businesses locate into renovated, less expensive industrial buildings. And this trend is being replicated across the country.

< b>Municipal Access Agreements

There are definite cost, location and prestige advantages of locating office space in a downtown core. Yet, if a revitalized building does not incorporate a fiber-optic telecommunications architecture into its redesign, small- and medium-sized businesses will be hampered in their ability to communicate with their partners, suppliers and customers.

To address the needs of these types of businesses, cities across Canada are entering into municipal access agreements with telecommunications service providers to wire urban centres with fiber-optic networks. These network expansions will carry through to the end of the year 2001, as more and more cable is pulled throughout urban centres.

Delivering Peace of Mind

A comprehensive fiber-optic network throughout a city core enables small and medium businesses to leverage the power of a proven communications medium. It also gives them ability to choose from a variety of service providers for data, application and voice services. Fiber-optic networks (built of thin glass filaments through which light beams are transmitted, carrying up to 30,000 times the information of electric waves over traditional copper wire networks) help satiate the demand for bandwidth.

Fiber-optic networks deliver peace of mind as effectively as they transfer information. Network designs incorporate advanced security features, as well as routing properties, to ensure the rapid delivery of information, even if part of the network is accidentally cut during municipal construction. This redundancy makes fiber-optic technology the logical choice for mission-critical business networks operating in the city centre.

Fostering Relationships

The time is ripe for small- and medium-sized businesses in Canada. Municipalities and telecommunications service providers are beating a path to their door to furnish them with space and bandwidth demands. Faced with a myriad of choices, how does a company choose its telecommunications partner?

A study recently completed by Decima Research highlights five elements critical to the success of a telecommunications service provider relationship with a small and medium business customer: supplier reliability, supplier reputation and stability, accessibility, follow-through on commitments, and service staff knowledge.

Practically speaking, in order to foster a successful telecommunications relationship, businesses must work with a service provider partner that has their complete telecommunications needs in mind. Just as the pace of business is accelerating, the speed at which technology, innovation and services are evolving is rapid and unpredictable. The right partner can clear the path to the best solution.

To do so, a telecommunications service provider must foster close contact with its client to truly understand the client’s business, and based on that knowledge, develop innovative services to address the client’s telecommunications needs.

Network ownership is a vital element of a strong telecommunications relationship between a service provider and a business. Service providers that have a vested interest in their fiber-optic infrastructure have the impetus and ability to deliver truly innovative telecommunications solutions to their customers.

Ultimately, over the course of 2001, the Canadian telecommunications industry will witness the rise of the small- and medium-sized business customer. No longer content to be an afterthought as a telecommunications purchaser, and demanding resources traditionally provided to large enterprises, these types of businesses will help to dictate the ways in which telecommunications solutions are conceived of, and provisioned for, in years to come. Only those service providers who have taken the time to learn about this market and its needs will be sufficiently prepared for the fiber-optic path of tomorrow.

As Chief Executive and Director for GT Group Telecom Services in Toronto, Dan Milliard is responsible for the implementation of the company’s national expansion strategies in Canada. Mr. Milliard has extensive experience establishing start-up telecommunication companies and is largely involved in Group Telecom’s ongoing capital markets activity.

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