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Skyscrapers and Fiber

What may conceivably be the end of the skyscraper era could be the beginning of the fiber-to-the-desk era.

January 1, 2002  

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Fall 2001 will be remembered as one of the darkest seasons, both from the point of view of the world’s political scene and that of the dramatically slowing global economy.

An already lethargic economy has been pushed into full-scale recession by the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon, the World Trade Center and United Flight 93. Investors’ unease with struggling currencies in Japan, Germany and elsewhere has resulted in a “safe haven” rush towards the U.S. dollar, driving Canada’s dollar to the lowest U.S. equivalence in its history and diminishing any hope that Canada could avoid the U.S. recession. Corporate revenues and profits are dramatically down, resulting in lay-offs that are frequent and staggeringly large in scope.


Every industry is affected, including construction, which is of course one of the two primary catalysts for growth in the communications cabling business (the other is cabling infrastructure upgrades).

Recently, the Canadian Construction Association released construction GDP forecasts for the five-year time horizon. Construction GDP measures the value of what the construction industry produces. Stagnant growth (either negative or less than two per cent to the positive) is predicted in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Tough times, indeed.

Recovery in this sector is not expected until 2004, when construction GDP will grow by 3.1 per cent.


So, growth will return. It always does. But, in the wake of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center, one must wonder whether the return to more positive construction growth will be seen in the form of that modern North American architectural wonder — the skyscraper? Post-terrorist public and corporate paranoia about being trapped in a high-rise disaster, whether caused by fire, earthquake or terrorism, could push this architectural form to the sidelines.

In much of the world, any building taller than 10 stories is unusual. Skyscrapers are very new to Asia and have never really gained a significant foothold in Europe. These structures remain a largely North American building form.

Even prior to September 11th, many Canadian companies and development experts were challenging the skyscraper for reasons other than safety. Magna Corporation, for example, built a multi-building “country chateau” in Aurora, ON, rather than an office tower. Nortel Networks, while still an investment darling, renovated a Brampton, ON factory to become its new head office, rather than build a tower. Maison Alcan in Montreal is a group of renovated mansions and a historic hotel.


So, what are the implications for the cabling business of large floor plate, low-rise buildings, versus the traditional high-rise tower? Well, for one, greater horizontal distances are a certainty, and multiple closets per floor will be required to keep horizontal cable runs within the 90-metre limit mandated by standards.

Alternatively, longer horizontal distances and the undesirable cost of providing closets in the middle of expensive, useable floor space, may also provide an impetus for the long-awaited acceptance of fiber-to-the-desk. Today it is possible to install a fiber infrastructure capable of carrying 10 Gigabit-per-second Ethernet signals a distance of 300 metres over enhanced multimode fiber. Copper cabling is currently limited to one-tenth the speed and one-third the distance of such a fiber solution.

There are other benefits to be realized from a fiber-to-the-desk installation. Network hardware port utilization can be optimized when multiple closets are eliminated. Fiber is more secure and tamper-proof than copper. Developments in 850 nm vertical cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) technology could result in the manufacture of auto-sensing switch-able 10 Mbps/ 100 Mbps/1 Gbps/10 Gbps Network Interface Cards. And network administrators could leverage familiar IP-Ethernet technology in their fiber-based Storage Area Networks (SANs), making their horizontal LAN, backbone LAN, WAN, and SAN infrastructures seamless and unified.


The end of the skyscraper era could be the beginning of the fiber-to-the-desk era. And remember — you read it here first, because once the Canadian construction industry gets going again in 2004, after years of decline (and about nine months prior to the release of the Category 6 standard), I know you will want to stop by the drive-through window at my place of employment and let me know I was right.

Robert Kostash, P.Eng., RCDD is Sales Director – Connectivity Solutions at Avaya Canada Corp. in Toronto and member of Cabling Systems’ Editorial Advisory Board.

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