This article is by a new contributor to Telecom Ramblings, Gunnar Oddsson, who has been in the business for the last 17 years, working as a technician, project manager, consultant and a business owner.
On Tuesday, April 4th, 2012, Anton Troianovski wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal titled: “OPTICAL DELUSION? FIBER BOOMS AGAIN, DESPITE BUST.”
The article focuses on the sudden and somewhat, unexpected increase in fiber optic cable installation throughout the United States. The article takes us back to the year 2000 when the great tech boom reached heights never seen before and as we know, the tech industry took a big hard fall. In the midst of this downturn, fiber optic network owners took a tremendous hit with many going bankrupt. MFN was one of the biggest victims, while others, like Level was able to weather the storm. MFN was known for offering “Dark Fibers” to service providers who provided data and voice services to their customers. MFN placed fiber optic cables throughout the United States and had a large inventory of installed fibers when they faced bankruptcy. At that time, industry and financial analysts blasted MFN, Level  and others for excessive fiber optic installation.
But was it truly excessive????
In Mr. Troianovski’s article, the need for additional fiber is questioned, along with whether Internet video streaming will increase enough to justify more fiber installations. It also points out that with advanced technology, service providers can transmit more and more information through a single strand of fiber optic and therefore, the need for any more fiber installation is put into question. This line of thinking is flawed.
The advantages of fiber optics over copper can not be disputed. Without fiber optics, today’s Internet would not exist as we know it. Businesses depend on fast, secure and reliable fiber optic networks to keep the economy running and households are requiring more bandwidth for entertainment purposes. Thousands of fiber optic networks have been installed throughout The United States and around the globe.
Fiber optic networks are complex in design and engineering and it takes months and sometimes years until a network is complete and placed into commission. Networks expand every year as more and more customers sign up for Internet access and the telecommunication landscape changes.
To say that there is enough fiber in the ground, is simply not true. Unless every commercial and residential building in The United States is connected to a fiber optic network, there is not enough fiber in the ground. (I know it’s a longshot, but can be done!)
The electrical grid is huge and connects every commercial and residential building in The United States to it’s grid. Most buildings are also connected to the old telecommunication system, which is the traditional two pair copper wire. Since fiber optics have overtaken the use of copper, why shouldn’t we connect every building with fiber optics?
It is important to remember, that fiber optic networks are a huge part of our infrastructure. While our government has neglected the infrastructure in the United States for the last 30 years, fiber optic service providers have been busy upgrading our old telecommunication system. All around us, and most visibly, highways and bridges are crumbling under an immense increase in traffic. The water and sewage system needs an upgrade due to increase in population. The electrical grid is in shock over additional requirements from consumers for more electricity. Who can forget the big black out in the North East in 2002? That should simply not happen in any modern society.
Instead of criticizing, we should be thankful for the visionaries who laid down the work 15-20 years ago, for one of the greatest infrastructure improvements taking place for the last 50 years. And the majority of it has been done without government funding. Who knows where the Internet would be today if not for MFN’s and Level ’s bold risk taking and future predictions 15 years ago? Maybe they knew what was coming and in order to be ready for what the Internet offers today, they looked ahead. Way further than most of us did.
Technology is always late to catch on with majority of people, especially those who did (or do) not grow up in technology environment. Let’s not forget, that our children (I have two children, ages 10 & 11) are growing up with technology at their fingertips. Schools are computerized and require children to search the Internet for school projects. Homework and schedules are posted on line. Teachers prefer parents to contact them via e-mail rather than face to face meeting or a phone call. Our children will utilize and work on the Internet in ways beyond our dreams.
This is not the place to discuss how fiber optic networks are designed and engineered, but if anybody wants to criticize network owners for “excessive” fiber installation, critics need to have at least some understanding of how and why fiber optic networks are built the way they are built.
If network owners could transmit all the worlds Internet traffic through 144 fibers (common fiber cable size), why wouldn’t they? It would be incredibly cheap and probably the best investment ever to be offered to the public. But that’s simply not possible. I have been building fiber optic networks for service providers for the last 17 years and we are still installing fiber optic cables to commercial buildings and for the last 10 years, Verizon has been pushing fiber to the home (FTTH) and they and others, still have a long way to go.
Cities, towns, highways, seaports and airport authorities are installing fibers to build and connect networks of cameras for our protection. Utility companies use fiber optics to control their power plants and facilities.
Along with an increase in video streaming, the financial sector has been pushing for faster trading speeds, often called “High Frequency Trading”. These practices look for the fastest point to point connections, often through the shortest possible fiber cabling routes. Along with shorter fiber cable routes, microwave installations are competing, but also working with fiber optic networks on faster data transmissions. By utilizing microwave technology, trading can take place at the speed of light, while fiber optics transmit data at 2/3 of the speed of light. Some network owners use both technologies to transmit data and when microwave transmissions are affected by athmospheric conditions, fiber optics networks often work as a secondary route, despite slower speeds.
But fiber optic network owners are not only betting on the financial sector and Internet video streaming to occupy the majority of available bandwidth. (The SEC is looking into the practices of “High Frequency Trading” and there are some speculations, that this form of trading will be banned).
3D/4D technology is catching on and there are multiple industries that will benefit tremendously from this technology. The medical industry and manufacturers are utilizing 3D technology for their customers to review products remotely from every angle. The medical industry will soon have surgeons performing surgeries remotely via technology dependent on fiber optic networks.
There is one industry though that will push 3D/4D technology to its limit and beyond and that is the entertainment industry.
Gaming developers are making billions of dollars of online gaming. Call of Duty and Battlefield are the generals that rule Internet gaming. Every year, improvements in electronics and graphics take us closer and closer to real life battles and before we know, we’ll be fighting those battles hooked up to advanced technology that allows us into the game, to fight side by side with our comrades and feel the pain of being shot and the trauma of shooting the enemy.
Then, there is the adult entertainment industry, which will utilize similar technology to bring pole dancers and escorts to our livingrooms for a close up one on one entertainment.
All this depends on vast, secure fiber optic networks.
We often tend to forget that the young generation is the generation who embraces technology. As parents, we try to stick to methods that our parents used to raise us and often we don’t allow our children to get close enough to the technology available to them. We fear the Internet and it’s dark sides and we try to limit gaming as much as we can. We introduce them to things we did as children and we wonder why they have no interest in it. Children are smart and access to modern technology only makes them smarter. Today’s child has an IQ 15-20 points higher than we did (the 40 some). New inventions are introduced to us every year and before long, somebody will develop the next big idea that everybody has been waiting for since Google and Facebook.
That invention will be Internet based and reliant on fiber optics.
I’ll put my bet on somebody under the age of 25.
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