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Weighing the options

The myriad of technology choices you must make during infrastructure planning can leave your head spinning.

March 1, 2001  

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Singlemode fiber, 50-micron multimode fiber, 62.5-micron multimode fiber, Category 6, Category 5e, wireless, Wavelength-Division Multiplexing (WDM), certification, single vendors, open systems — these are just some of the many Layer 1 cable media decisions that must be made during infrastructure planning.

And then there is Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), 1-Gigabit Ethernet, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), 10-Gigabit Ethernet — still more choices available for the activation technologies.

Today, we face an abundance of options for physical level communications system implementation. As complex new technologies become available for high bandwidth premises implementation, the selection of the appropriate physical layer cable platform will have a significant impact on how your organization conducts its business and implements new technologies in the future.

But what should you choose?


Depending on which marketing strategy you follow, different solutions are presented as wise, “killer” choices for the future. The wireless proponents will have you believe in a wireless future — one devoid of cable. Fiber proponents advise that fiber to the desktop is the only real future alternative. Single system vendors and open systems vendors both push the merits of their solutions. The deluge of contradicting information can be overwhelming.

Yet there is no one correct answer — each may be appropriate for a particular project, none may fit, or a combination of technologies may offer the best solution. The key is to carefully examine your short- and long-term needs, gather as much information as possible, extensively study the available technologies, and make a decision that best suits your requirements. This may be done as an internal exercise or through the use of external consultants, vendors or contractors. Yet, whomever you go to for help should be objective, vendor neutral and “technology agnostic”


Some of the determining factors that may ease your decision include budget, the type of building/occupied space, the length of occupancy, and current and future technology platforms. When evaluating solutions, entertain new options and do not solely rely on “tried and true” solutions that have worked in the past. Today’s rapid evolution of communications technologies may invalidate “things that have worked for the last ten years”, and may offer opportunities not previously considered for premises, such as end-user WDM in the implementation of high bandwidth backbones.

We often we hear such things as: “We have Category 5 now and we will never need anything beyond Category 5” or “We want fiber to the desktop”. While either statement may be valid in a particular circumstance, decisions are frequently made without much consideration for current and future implications and other available options. For example, basic Category 5 is no longer a recognized cable media since it has been supplemented in the new standards. Similarly, when considering fiber to the desktop solutions, you must consider current investments in existing copper connectivity devices and whether or not the project budget can accommodate both the cost of the fiber and the replacement of all copper devices with fiber connectivity devices.


With the plethora of options available, you might want to consider combinations of technologies that augment, rather than replace, one another. Wireless is a very powerful, flexible and mobile technology that can offer great benefits when augmenting a fixed wired system, but has severe restrictions when replacing a wired system. As a replacement technology, it means replacing a very high bandwidth (greater than gigabit capable media) with a shared, restricted bandwidth technology available on wired media in the 1980s.

As a complementary technology, wireless offers great benefits for personnel. It is also beneficial for specific applications, such as meeting rooms with extensive portable computer usage. Using these technologies to complement one another offers users the high bandwidth fixed connections expected at the workstations, while offering mobile network connectivity elsewhere in the office.

Similarly, backbone choices are more varied today. Besides typical single wavelength singlemode and multimode fiber optic technologies, high bandwidth wireless and premises WDM are becoming viable options to the end-user.

When embarking on a new project, consider all of your options. But remember: tried and true practices that may have been valid for the past 10 years must be re-examined for their validity against new technology options. And instead of considering singular solutions, consider complementary technologies such as wired and wireless, fiber and WDM, to ensure the best solution for your requirements.CS

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