Emerging Glass Fiber

Traditional Copper Ethernet or Emerging Glass Fiber? (Passive Optical Network)

Written by Bill Roberts, President, Network Services, Datatrend Technologies, Inc.

Ever since 1884, when an experimental long distance telephone line made of copper was set up between Boston and New York, telephone and network infrastructure designers have relied on copper to move voices and data. Just over a hundred years after the experiment, Datatrend began a 25 year history of installing all the levels of Cat-X copper cabling: Category 3, Cat5, Cat5e, Cat5E, Cat6, Cat6A, Cat7… Cat (next generation). Sure we installed fiber backbones to support the copper, but the dream of “fiber-to-the-desktop” continued to be cut short by the entrenched perception that a glass network is more expensive than a copper network.

The dream of bringing fiber to the emerging demands of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and cloud computing is starting to become more of a reality as enterprise managers look at the true total cost of ownership (TCO).

For years an “apples-to-oranges” comparison has been made. If you look only at the financial cost of replacing copper links with glass and adding fiber media converters, you are going to continue to depend on the copper mines around the world. However, if you consider the cost advantages of the simplicity of the GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Network), you will also gain the inherent advantages of more speed and bandwidth that fiber brings to the network. GPON has a downstream capacity of 2.488 Gb/s and an upstream capacity of 1.244 Gbp/s.

A PON (Passive Optical Network) or POL (Passive Optical LAN) uses non-powered optical splitters, Optical Network Terminals (ONT), and Optical Line Terminals (OLT). These non-powered devices allow one Single-Mode Fiber to support multiple devices without the requirement of costly, space-eating, energy-consuming secondary Wiring Closets.

Where are the big advantages with a PON?

Energy Consumption:

Imagine the continued cost of running energy inefficient devices and equipment required in a traditional ethernet LAN, and the additional energy cost of cooling or heating the secondary closet spaces. By eliminating active switches, uninterrupted power supply(UPS) devices, and additional power requirements, the realization of over 50% in energy cost savings is a cost saving annuity that gives year after year. PONs are a solution to help CIOs meet the pressures of “going green” and achieving certification under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

Space Savings:

The PON architecture requires one single data center room with splitters located on every other floor, usually hidden in maintenance or electrical closets. The multiple 100 to 200 square foot space required on every floor for traditional ethernet LAN closets is given back to the client for functional and even potential revenue-generating space. Just the reduced weight in ceiling cabling is astonishing. BICSI published that a traditional 114 port copper ethernet design requires 890 pounds of copper and fiber backbones; in contrast 114 port PONs design requires just 180 pounds of Fiber Optic cables, about 1/5 of the traditional design.

Installation Savings:

Which sounds easier? Installing and terminating (5) Category 6A UTP cables to each guestroom in a hotel, or just (1) Fiber Optic Cable to each guestroom….without cable trays, racks, and traditional cabinets on every floor. There are far fewer components that need to be bonded and grounded to code, and the fire penetrations are significantly smaller and less costly.


A Passive Optical LAN is naturally more secure than an ethernet LAN for the simple reason that optical fiber does not conduct electricity as copper does. Electrically based services, unfortunately, are known points of security risk, in that copper emits electromagnetic radiation (EMR) signals. Those signals – which contain all the information that the copper is carrying at the time and can be intercepted and reconstructed on a nearby device.

Speed and Bandwidth:

We already mentioned the speed and bandwidth potential, which is why in the ‘90s we wanted to make the dream of “fiber-to-the-desktop” a reality. The reality now is that, for example, the new hotels that have moved to a PONs are now reaping the benefits of improved High Speed Internet Access (HSIA) performance for their guests, improved guest satisfaction survey results, and improved occupancy rates.

Do we expect network enterprise leaders to begin ripping out their copper and replacing it with glass? No, but we do think looking at the true TCO of a PON for a new build or major remodel project is a smart play today. Also, with careful planning, many companies can install fiber incrementally. This makes a lot of sense, especially with the wide availability of fiber media converters to allow existing copper networks to communicate seamlessly with any newly installed fiber networks.

For more information on PON assessments and installations from Datatrend, click here or contact Bill Roberts at bill.roberts@datatrend.com. You can also consult with a Datatrend representative by calling 800-367-7472.