Fibre optics industry: The year of light?

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Technological innovation has been the hallmark of the fibre optics industry in recent years, but all too often there`s been plenty of promise and too little in the way of implementation.

This is about to change, says Dave Fawcett, CEO of Fibreplus, one of SA`s fastest growing distributors of fibre optic cable and accessories. He believes 2001 will be "The Year of Production," as networking companies begin to deliver on the promise of high-speed optical networking - and better meet the growing demand for bandwidth.

From a technology standpoint, 2001 will be "the year of light" as networking companies deliver on the promise of high-speed optical fibre networks.

The core of the network is driving toward a homogenous, all-optical structure. It will move the rest of the network toward a fluid-like model in which all elements are dynamic and adaptive.

In future, the differentiation between the corporate core and the WAN or long haul network, will be difficult to discern, as the optical-transport equipment will transmit across the street or across the country, utilising the same protocols, dependent upon the traffic patterns of the moment.

The optical portion of the network will enable provisioning of extremely high-speed circuits, although not necessarily at very high time-division multiplexed (TDM) rates, in less than a second.

Unlike the core, the edge of the network is experiencing something akin to the big bang theory. Forty years ago, all networks were uniform and concentrated in one place: the traditional telephone handset.

The convergence of a number of events has caused an explosion that has, in effect, blown the network outward in all directions, with information-carrying capacity expanding at incredible speeds.

Whereas this part of the network has, to date, been gated by technology and economics, a number of edge technologies have matured to a point that each has a clearly sustainable position in the future.

While the core of the network is characterised by convergence, the edge of the network will be characterised by divergence, with a number of technologies incorporated in different parts of the network.

These positions will not be dictated by technology or economics, but by appropriateness, which means that the network will adapt and provide the appropriate amount of bandwidth, in an appropriate delivery format, to meet the needs of the user.

In all likelihood, amplification will be required to support these high speeds. Increasingly, amplification it will be seen as an applied technology and commercial designs will start to become well established.

Most meaningful use will be made of Raman technology (which amplifies an optical signal directly, without the need to convert it to an electrical signal) in ultra long haul applications where it serves to reduce the number of signal regenerators in a span.

To drive fibre amplification, laser pumps are required. Thus, the whole family of wavelength pumps (that provide cyclic inputs to an oscillating reaction device) should gain in popularity from network providers.

In addition, a range of integrated optics will start to come into more commercial acceptance and utilisation within this arena.

These include high performance electronic information displays based on a variety of display technologies including active matrix liquid crystal displays, passive matrix liquid crystal displays, electroluminescent flat panel displays, active matrix electroluminescent and other microdisplays, as well as specialised cathode ray tubes.

Several of the technical problems facing these devices are starting to be cleared and many companies are now focusing resources to gear up for increased levels of manufacturing.

From the manufacturers` perspective automation is progressing but has not caught up with demand. A limiting factor is the lack of key process automation equipment to perform such tasks as fibre alignment (active and passive) and assembly of micro optic devices.

Demand for more complex, smaller sub-system packages will continue to increase. System manufacturers are under pressure to make their equipment do more in a smaller area, but at a reasonable cost.

While innovation will drive new technologies, the need will remain for traditional applications.

For example, while a holographic, three-dimensional video conference may be the format of choice for your global board meeting, analogue voice is probably the vehicle of choice when you jump out of the shower to answer the phone.

While a wireless video call is wonderful for telling your children good night when you are out for a business dinner, a simple voice call is probably more appropriate when you talking to a colleague while driving your car.

From this we can see that the edge network of the future will have no dominate technology. Rather, it will have a plethora of technologies, each appropriate for a different time and place as we travel through our daily lives.

These trends are already visible if you look at the right places. All-optical switching is reaching the core; DSL, cable modems, and wireless Internet are at the edges. These will become very clear trends - even within SA - within the next 12 months. It may be five years, however, before they become universal.

While the core and edges of the network will have dramatically different implementations and uses, both will evolve toward dynamic, flexible solutions that provide the management capability and economic advantages telecommunications carriers will require to delivering the varied services South African users will enjoy in the future - efficiently and seamlessly.

Editorial contacts
Howard Mellet Communications Sarah Dowding (011) 463 4611
Nexgen FibrePlus Dave Fawcett (011) 708 2750
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