Single-mode fiber’s recent and growing migration across the enterprise and end-user networks has begun to replace multi-mode fiber more than ever before. This article discusses the how’s and why’s of this ongoing growth.
Single-Mode Fiber Migration Expansion Potential Drivers
When it comes to the expansion of single-mode fiber migration, many potential drivers are encouraging this growth. In most cases, when given the option of single versus multimode fiber, the choice would be single-mode for its deployment simplicity, enhanced bandwidth, reduced latency, better bend radius, and relative lack of distance limitations.
Here’s a better look into the potential drivers:
As the IoT continues to explode, a corresponding need for greater bandwidth, reduced latency, and more efficient transmission comes right along with it. And, while multi-mode fiber bandwidth capacity continues to increase (e.g., OM 1, 2, 3, 4 and now OM 5), single-mode fiber bandwidth capacity and comparative distance issues still win hands down.
With significant advances in fusion splicing technology (i.e., reduced cost and process simplification), field terminations have gone from what could be cumbersome and complex to what has become relatively straightforward and simple. While a skilled field tech could always splice multimode fiber via accepted mechanical means, the notion of inexpensive and simplified field fusion splicing remained, for the most part, out of reach.
Pigtail Splicing Cassettes
With the advent of pigtail splicing cassettes, everything a field tech might need is packaged/provided with the pigtail cassette from factory-polished pre-terminated pigtails (pre-stripped and routed within the splice tray) to the splicing tray and consumables.
See Figure 1 here.
Coupled with massive cost and complexity reductions in fusion splicing and the advent of pigtail cassettes, one of the final barriers to expanded single-mode fiber deployment has always been the relative cost of multimode versus single-mode electronics. Historically, multimode fiber LED transceivers were simpler and cost a lot less than complex single-mode laser transceivers. While still the case, due to economies of scale and other market factors, the cost differential, while significant, continues to erode.
Usually, most things are not equal, so let’s take a closer look at some of the potential drivers of single-mode enterprise and end-user migration mentioned above, including bandwidth issues, changes in fusion splicing, the advent of pigtailed cassettes, and finally, electronics.
Rather than listing the reasons for single-mode enterprise or end-user network fiber migration, this article is geared to be a thought-starter as the present becomes our future at an ever more accelerated pace.
“Building automation, driven by connected lighting devices, will be the segment with the largest [IoT connected devices] growth rate in 2020 (42%), followed by automotive and healthcare, which are forecast to grow 31% and 29% in 2020, respectively.”
Gartner IT Symposium/Expo, November 3-7, 2019 Barcelona, Spain
As IoT expands, so does the need for greater bandwidth. As bandwidth expands, the need for greater fiber bandwidth similarly increases. While there have always been applications best suited to either multimode or single-mode fiber, the increasing need for bandwidth across the enterprise and end-user networks, coupled with technological upgrades, cost reductions, and increased simplicity continues to drive enterprise and end-user migration from multimode to single-mode fiber. Again, while multimode fiber has progressed through OM1, OM2, OM3, OM4, and now OM5 with the latest generations promising increased reach and bandwidth, these multimode fibers have yet to surpass the performance of single-mode.
Historically, high cost (i.e., electronics – LEDs versus lasers) and ease of use (fusion splicing) were some of the obstacles to single-mode migration, but as the following paragraphs show some of these obstacles no longer exist, and others are diminishing over time. To this point, many in-building and campus network owners and end-users have chosen to get off the multimode fiber treadmill by simply adopting single-mode fiber throughout their optical networks. While some up-front costs are still much higher with single-mode versus multimode (i.e., electronics), network owners realize that the total cost of ownership, along with eliminating future-proofing needs can lead to a significantly better return on their network investments.
Fusion Spliced Termination
With the accelerating IoT need for greater bandwidth, there is an industry emphasis on optical fiber termination performance (i.e., fusion versus mechanical splicing). Performance is measured in both insertion loss and reflectance. And it’s not a surprise that fusion splicing has been, and remains, the gold standard when it comes to a dependable low-loss and low-reflectance connector. The core issues are the cost, time, and complexity associated with fusion splicing – but that has all changed for the better.
A key factor driving this change is technology innovation leading to cost reductions that result from competition between fusion splicer manufacturers. As we can all recall, in the early days of fusion splicers, they resembled a suitcase rather than the compact, smart, technology-enabled products of today. The fusion splicer of yesteryear could often cost the same as a new car. The technology paradox comes into plain view as the capabilities and ease of use of the fusion splicer has increased, prices have decreased, as shown in Figure 2. Today, a quality fusion splicer can be purchased for a few thousand dollars.
Yet another potential obstacle to single-mode network migration bites the dust! Cost reduction in fusion splicing and equipment is a good thing. That said, there should be a focus on other associated obstacles of fusion splicing network migration– process complexity and time. Bring on the pigtailed splicing cassettes!
While pigtail splicing is not new, how this termination method manifests itself has markedly changed due to innovations within the optical fiber hardware market. Historically, pigtail splicing was complicated and labor-intensive, requiring separate hardware for splicing, an extensive bill of materials, and time-consuming routing between splice and termination housings; pigtailed cassettes changed all of that. Pigtail cassette-based fusion splicing leads the way among termination processes for lower cost and ease of use.
The pigtailed splice cassette typically combines all products required to terminate the optical fiber cable in a single part number. This one-part number can include an adapter panel, factory-polished pre-terminated pigtails (pre-stripped and routed within the splice tray), and the splice tray integrated into the cassette. Even the consumables required to splice such items as transport tubing, tie-wraps for strain-relief, and heat-shrink splice protectors are typically included. This reduces the complexity of specifying, ordering, and installation, allowing an optical fiber link to be built with only three parts: the enclosure, pigtailed cassette, and cable.
Comparatively speaking, while pigtail splice cassettes are not an overwhelming driver of single-mode enterprise and end-user network migration, they are a contributing factor. Pigtail splice cassettes help to lower fiber-optic network management costs and virtually eliminate the complexity of single-mode fusion splicing.
Unlike other cited causes of single-mode migration within the enterprise and end-user network owner marketplaces, today, and we stress today, the issue of single-mode versus multimode electronics is not one of them.
However, we believe that as the single-mode/multimode electronics cost gap continues to narrow, as it inevitably will over time, transceiver costs will become less of an issue. Compared with a network’s need to efficiently transmit more and more IoT data over short, medium, and long-haul distances. We’ve already begun to see this manifesting in the recent phenomenon called edge computing.
Moreover, while multimode fiber optic cable is more expensive than single-mode cable today, as mentioned above, the differentiation in transceiver electronics’ cost swings comparative pricing 180 degrees in favor of multimode. Today, single-mode transceivers can cost two to three times more than multimode.
Looking into the future, as single-mode fiber adoption increases across long and medium-haul datacom networks, economies of scale naturally bring costs down. While bandwidth continually expands due to the IoT, more enterprise and end-user network owners aim to avoid future headaches that come from high costs and highly disruptive network fork-lift upgrades. Enterprise and end-user single-mode fiber migration is becoming more widely accepted than ever before.
Ensuring Long-Term Success
The IoT is here to stay, meaning that the need for greater bandwidth, reduced latency, and efficient data transmission will also continue to accelerate. Among the variety of factors mentioned within this article (e.g., fusion splicing technology advances, pigtail splicing cassettes, and, to a lesser degree, a diminishing cost gap between single-mode and multimode electronics), the migration of single-mode fiber across the enterprise shows no signs of abating.
Owning and managing an enterprise or end-user data communications network has never been more challenging. The pace of innovation these days can be head spinning. When considering a partner for data communication networking, it’s critical to your success to find those distributors, manufacturers, and contractors with the depth and breadth of fiber optic experience you can count on to ensure long-term success.