Musings on IT, data management, whitewater rafting, and backpacking

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Fiber to the desktop? Not anytime soon

For decades, some vendors have pushed fiber to the desktop, instead of copper.

The advertised advantages of fiber have been:
  1. Fiber is "future proof" – you don't need to rip and replace every 10 years
  2. Fiber has higher bandwidth
  3. Fiber is immune to RFI
  4. Fiber is almost impossible to tap
  5. Fiber can run longer distances easily
In reality:

  1. Fiber has been through many "standards" in two decades. Multimode, singlemode; 8.3, 10, 50, 62.5, 100 um "outside" diameters; ST, SC, FC, SMA, FDDI, and MT-RJ connectors; SX, LX/SM, LX/MM, LX10, ZX, and BX10 PHY standards for 1 gigabit; SR, LR, LRM, ER, ZR, and LX4 PHY standards for 10 gigabit; and more. Show me 10 year old fiber that can run 10 gigabit ethernet on easily available equipment without adapters!
  2. Fiber has higher bandwidth at 100 meters – at much higher cost. And copper catches up in a few years.
  3. Cat 5 and newer cable have virtually no RFI problems if installed according to specifications.
  4. Tapping fiber or copper cables is the least of my security worries.
  5. Yes, fiber can run longer distances than copper for the same or faster bandwidth. If you need distance, fiber is the only way to go.
And ...
  • Fiber is more expensive to install than copper, both for the cabling and the labor. However, the installed cost of Cat 6A is almost even.
  • Fiber is more expensive to use than copper. Since most end-user devices have only copper network interfaces, you need a fiber-to-copper converter or HBA for every device. And fiber network switches are many times more expensive than copper.
Most of these factors have not changed for decades, and won't change anytime soon.

We might pull fiber into a few offices for users with high-bandwidth needs.

But in general – Fiber to the desktop – bah, humbug.

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