For years, connectivity in the cable industry was considered a “throw it over the wall” issue with a focus on leaving the problem to others who then became responsible for the convenience of connecting the cables designed to the outside world. It wasn’t considered necessary to pursue technological coordination between the cable designers and connectivity designers. When we talk about advancements in connectivity we have to look to the past, because with analog communications the cable lost bandwidth quickly with length so connectivity was either primary as with RF coax or totally secondary with twisted pair in that techniques for termination were very basic. In today’s world, we are tasking our existing infrastructure to perform well beyond its initial design criteria and designing new infrastructure to accommodate the spiraling demands of bandwidth today’s consumer demands. Simply put, connectivity is becoming the gating factor in pushing more bandwidth from today’s existing systems and the new designs entering the marketplace as we speak. Effectively it is critical to the overall system approach that is now required.
Why has connectivity become so important?
When looking at the bigger picture of our industry, it has become clear that cabling and connectivity go hand-in-hand as a SYSTEM. Connectivity is integral to helping our industry do more – and do it faster. We are continuing to pack more cargo (data) into smaller spaces. As bandwidth on any given medium increases, decisions on how to terminate the cable to the outside world and how to transfer that cargo become increasingly critical.
At one point in time, the transmission medium itself was the biggest loss contributor. Now the connector is the biggest loss device. This is just one of many challenges our industry is tackling:
- As bandwidth increases, more and more areas will migrate to optical fiber to compete in the smart world. And, as bandwidth swells, the issues related to moving light from one platform to another multiply.
- In copper high-frequency connectivity, electrical laws apply and over many years have become well understood. This is best exemplified in that we move mountains of data over twisted pair that 30 years ago were unthinkable. In optical connectivity, we are moving highly intense lightwaves at one end and extremely small amounts of light are detected at the other end. The physics of light manipulation involve several disciplines from physics to electro-optics to material science. We are still learning about how the sciences that govern optical connectivity can best be used with mass data movement.
- Many of the difficulties related to higher bandwidth connectivity such as back reflection issues and index mismatches require significant research and experimentation to resolve on a commercial scale and meet acceptable costs.
- Driven by the internet of things, optical communication technology will move into more and more traditional copper transmission media. In many cases, the use of wireless communications would seem to be the likely next generation after optical fiber. Rather than diminish the use of fiber, it will expand that use – every wireless point of presence will require a higher bandwidth connection to the web in order to transfer the last few meters of distance into the network.
Many of the difficulties that need to be resolved continue to push new boundaries, resulting in a number of emerging technologies.
The issues listed above are the tip of the iceberg. They illustrate the fact that connectivity cannot be overlooked. When we talk about connectivity today, this encompasses fusion splices, mechanical splices, and connectors of various types with non-contact or physical contact. In the not-too-distant future, other exciting technologies will facilitate getting data (light) from fiber to the outside world.
Of course, ease of use is an ongoing pursuit. How can you make installation in the field easier, perhaps by an IT technician? When a connector goes bad in the field, how can you efficiently find it and fix it? Not so long ago, it required a trained technician to assemble a coaxial connector. Today, a homeowner can do it. This is because past engineers took a systems approach.
Today, our industry is starting to talk about putting connectivity inside the chip! Moving the optical connection closer to the silicon of the chip will be an exciting development to watch. Other concepts being pursued include additive technologies, long-term connector performance studies, putting more fibers into smaller connectors, and moving away from the ferrule.
This is an exciting time in the cable industry…
When we take the long view, we realize that copper cable has been used in industrial applications for more than 100 years. When it comes to fiber optics, we have about 4 decades under our belt. Some industries would wither after such time. Yet our industry continues to flourish. Far from growing stale, the cable industry regularly delivers exciting technological breakthroughs. Much of the excitement and breakthroughs are focused on connectivity.
My background with Fiber Optic Center, Inc. (FOC) has provided me with a unique vantage point built on decades of practical cable assembly production experience. Like many companies that thrive over the years, we have carved out several areas of specialization and expertise and are known as the industry leader in fiber optic cable assembly manufacturing and testing. The FOC technical experts’ team work daily with our customers, improving their processes to ensure specifications are met. Simply put, we help our customers make the best cable assemblies in the world.
Selling and delivering every piece of equipment needed for the automated production of fiber optic cable assemblies includes in-depth application support both on-site and remote. In addition to standard products, FOC maintains the largest inventory in the world of custom drilled connectors for large core fibers. We are the source for harder-to-find components and systems, from non-standard connectors and connector polishing machines to complete factories for the manufacture and testing of communication-grade and research optical fiber and cable. Step by step, it has been said that FOC offers unparalleled technical expertise at the tip of the connector.
Having been elected to the Board of Directors for the International Cable & Connectivity Symposium (IWCS), I bring both this inside view of fiber manufacture, characterization and termination as well as my passion for this important component of connectivity in the cable industry.
I appreciate being in an industry with excellent conferences focused on both optical communications and ICT for professionals to installers. IWCS expanding their thought leadership for the specifics in connectivity is an exciting and crucial piece of the overall industry landscape.
IWCS is a go-to venue to hear papers on next-generation cable and connectivity products, processes, and applications.
IWCS began as a military-sponsored symposium after World War II, with a focus on the technology of copper cable for power and communications. Over the years, IWCS transitioned into a commercial industry symposium with no sponsoring government agency but industry sponsorship. However, it held true to its roots. IWCS is primarily a symposium with technology leaders from material science, cable design, cable processing and testing (including standards for design and safety) with leaders from major companies and universities presenting research papers. With the advent of optical fiber, connectivity added a new critical component to the mix.
About a decade ago, IWCS Symposium leaders began talking about fiber optics and high-bandwidth copper – and they realized that the connector determined system performance more than the actual medium. In order to truly be a cable symposium, they needed to embrace connectivity. As I stated earlier, cable and connectivity design in the optical and digital age go hand-in-hand as a SYSTEM. In fact, it’s becoming evident that leading companies in our industry are building system designs rather than component designs.
IWCS focuses on the current state of the art as well as next-generation technologies. Offering the place to hear peer-reviewed papers, talk to suppliers on their processes and get research first is the DNA that the Symposium has had for many years.
Why is it important to hear this information? Here are a few quick thoughts:
- How can you differentiate what is truly leading-edge technology versus an experimental technology that won’t survive?
- What could be next year’s also-ran, nonstarter, or failure?
- How can you be certain your company does not start working on what will become legacy technology?
- What disruptive technology might come along and change the game?
- How can you ensure your product is not disturbed by disruptive technology, then left in the dust?
I’ll conclude with a favorite saying: You want to make sure your business is skating to where the puck is going to be – not to where the puck is.
Additional resources from the FOC team include:
- Glossary, Acronyms, Military Specifications for Connectors: http://bit.ly/2a2EFn8
- Q&A Resource: email technical questions to AskFOC@focenter.com
Have questions about this article?
Contact FOC with questions at: (800) 473-4237 / 508-992-6464 or email: FiberOpticCenter@focenter.com and we will respond ASAP.
Follow Ben @BenWaite_FOC
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