Passive Optical LAN vs. Traditional Structured Cabling

Stay Informed

Passive optical LAN (POL) isn’t some new, breakthrough technology — in fact, it has been around since the 1980s – but it’s rising in the ranks as many businesses start to leverage fiber. While fiber used to be considered more of a nonessential luxury, it is now increasingly being used in new construction, especially in the hospitality industry, as businesses adapt to increasing bandwidth demands.

It’s important to understand how both POL and traditional structured cabling work. In its simplest form, traditional networking transmits data through layers of switches, cables (typically copper) and routers. Alternatively, POL is an optical fiber network that utilizes a point-to-multipoint topology in which a single strand of single-mode fiber serves multiple endpoints using splitters to reach endpoint devices.

Students using technology at university

Consider Bandwidth, Distance and Space

The two main constraints of traditional structured cabling are that it is limited based on bandwidth and distance. The standard point-to-point distance with copper is 90 meters (the exception being Utility Grade Infrastructure). Expanding the network over longer distances requires adding switches and routers to carry the network, not to mention a telecommunications room. With single-mode fiber, there is no theoretical limit to bandwidth. Expanding bandwidth is simple and virtually infinite using splitters.

POL is essentially fiber to the x (FTTx), eliminating the distance constraints associated with copper cabling. It is direct to the user and doesn’t need a telecommunications room, which can lead to huge savings in space as well as costs associated with building the closet and climate control. This is especially beneficial in locations such as hotels and cruise ships. The space-saving benefit and increased bandwidth are also valuable in the new construction of universities, hospitals and assisted living centers.

Additionally, all the electronic components are at the central station and the end-user, which means there is nothing in between to maintain and changing out the electronics is easy.

Technician installing fiber cables

Cost Factors and Energy Efficiency

Since single-mode fiber can support multiple devices, POL uses less cable, thus resulting in savings in material costs and the cost of labor to install it. Depending on the current price of copper, you may benefit from small savings upfront, as well as greater potential savings in the long run.

POL is also energy efficient since the “passive” in passive optical LAN means it’s unpowered in the middle, using splitters to provide connectivity to various endpoints. If you’re concerned that you may lose the benefits of power over ethernet (PoE) if you make the switch to POL, rest assured there is a configuration that can still provide power using fiber and copper hybrid cables to provide remote powering.

Traditional copper structured cabling is still the most popular media of choice for brownfield and greenfield applications. For example, when Category 6 and 6A cabling is meeting current needs, switches could be upgraded while the cables remain in place. Traditional cabling also provides a benefit of familiarity and understanding by those in the industry.

Engineers working at computer

Establishing Strong, Foundational Technologies

In conclusion, when choosing the right cabling for your next project, consider space limitations, bandwidth requirements, and the existing infrastructure. POL can be an energy-efficient, future-proof technology, especially when it comes to new construction in hospitality locations. Not to mention, it is IEEE standard. Traditional structured cabling is tried and true. Extensions and short distances are good use cases for this technology.

Digital transformation will only be as strong as the foundational core technologies it’s built on. To discover how to leverage scalable technologies that can help transform your business, learn more here or reach out to your WESCO | Anixter sales representative.