The enterprise of the future needs passive optical LAN

With the increase in IoT and mobility, the demand for connectivity will continue to experience unprecedented growth in enterprise environments. This is creating a timely need to re-evaluate the network backbone technology options that can support today and tomorrow's needs. Passive Optical LAN (POL) is the solution, delivering significant benefits beyond anything a traditional copper-based LAN can deliver.    

A recent Association for Passive Optical LAN (APOLAN) member survey identified the top five benefits of POL that customers are taking advantage of in the enterprise. In no particular order they are:    

Tangible contributions to environmental green initiatives: With no power consumption, minimal HVAC needs and reduced equipment needs, POL provides stronger green benefits to enterprises compared to copper-based networks. This technology supports LEED and Green Globe certifications.   

Reduced spacing requirements: Unlike copper-based LAN need for telecom rooms, POL uses very little space in a building due to its reduced equipment and cabling requirements and limited powering and cooling needs. This means space savings for enterprises that can convert this extra space into more comfortable areas or in revenue-generating areas.   

Superior scalability and availability: To keep up with growing connectivity needs, modern network backbone technologies need to deliver scalability to accommodate more bandwidth needs as well as availability that keeps business going, with no unplanned interruption. In both situations, POL provides superior rates when compared to copper-based LAN. 

Time-saving opportunities to IT teams: Due to its reduced component needs and network simplicity, POL requires little time to be deployed and maintained. Another time-saving benefit when compared to copper-based LAN, is its certification period. Typically, it takes three and a half days of training, compared to several weeks commonly required for a copper-based network.   

Lower capital and operational costs: As a result of less equipment and lower energy and cooling needs, POL is simpler to deploy and to maintain, delivering greater cost reductions both short and long-term to enterprises. In another significant cost benefit, POL requires less frequent upgrading, every 10 years or more compared to every 5-7 years with copper.   

These benefits are why APOLAN members are focused on formulating solutions on how best to market, install, educate, and support this burgeoning field. More specifically, POL technology is the first major revelation in the cabling infrastructure world in more than a decade. This technology significantly reduces energy costs and heat loads, size of communications rooms, and eliminates the need for expensive copper cabling and traditional active Ethernet switching.    

To do this, the approach must be centered on the consolidation of all systems commonly found in today’s buildings. From  AV, security and  data to building automation and phone systems, POL significantly reduces the amount of cabling and allows convergence onto a single infrastructure to maximize an organization’s return on investment.   

This technology makes sense for organizations especially those with geographically separated buildings that typically fall within the 24-mile range a Passive Optical Network (PON) can support. This allows the reduction of network IT assets at each building and reduces the costly recurring monthly bills for the leased circuits at every building. These benefits are changing how those in the commercial space – from architects to building owners – add business value through the IT function area.   

In addition, fibre is now considered to be the 4th Utility. This is because of the future ability and the lifecycle of the fibre. Unlike copper it will stay in the building for 30-40 years. Leaders in the field are working towards informing these benefits to the larger community. This industry has many innovators with an entrepreneurial spirit to push the technology advances forward to the next generation of IT solutions. 

The markets are becoming increasingly competitive and environmentally conscious. POL provides the differentiator that saves money while increasing the efficiency of a building. APOLAN’s member companies are at the forefront of this technology. The current realities that mobile and other smart technologies are providing access to information for commerce and the exchange of knowledge at staggering rates. Our community needs to be ready to embrace the advancements and innovate for the future. 

Amtrak Headquarters: A Case Example 

The benefits of POL are best highlighted through a case example. According to Amtrak’s website, on “an average day, nearly 85,700 passengers ride more than 300 Amtrak trains.” Amtrak customers rely on Amtrak to get them from point A to point B without any disruptions and their employees need to be able to communicate effectively and efficiently as possible. The organization needed a facility with a sophisticated telecommunications system to meet their current utilization needs and a plan for future technology demands of the organization. The goal was to use all available space for operational use as well increase the capacity to meet our users’ technology requests in the future 

For Amtrak, the aim was to develop a converged network capable of providing high-bandwidth and wireless connectivity for up to 500 users within their office space. Using the PON technology, a cable containing a single strand of single-mode fiber can provide hundreds of users’ unlimited bandwidth. Amtrak needed the bandwidth to have the ability to simultaneously converge multiple services such as data, video conferencing, VOIP, building security, management services, and wireless devices. “Our goal was to use all available space for operational use as well increase our capacity to meet our users’ technology requests in the future. Passive Optical LAN was the answer,” said Richard Thompson, Director, IT, Amtrak.   

The answer for the new facility was a GPON fiber network that provides high-bandwidth in both directions (e.g. 2.48 GB/s of downstream bandwidth and 1.24 GB/s upstream). With an unprecedented 100+ terabits of data transmission capability the use of single-mode fiber optic cable allows the networks the ability to handle future requirements. This is vitally important attribute because many communications electronics have a five-year life cycle. With the future-proof capability Amtrak will be able to handle the technology needs for decades.  

As they look toward implementing greener technologies, POL is distinguished as the answer because this technology, among other benefits, uses significantly fewer energy and cooling/ventilation requirements. This was a key selling point to Amtrak who has operations at many historical sites and it was important to not waste valuable space and reduce its footprint. 

Pioneering Innovative Technology 

Fiber optic technology has been in use since the 1990’s. This technology provides significant ROI growth by decreasing installation costs and saving tremendous amounts of energy. It replaces communications closets and the type of switches with no-power-needed/passive infrastructure that far exceeds the copper-based distance limitations of 90 meters with an impressive 12 miles. In its past, this technology was created to deliver media and services to residential customers. However, fiber is repurposed to provide those same savings to enterprise.  

As we face the current realities and look to the future, people will be connected to the world for commerce as well as to consume information, video, emailing, and texting. The unwritten expectation is untethered connectivity. APOLAN and its member companies are leading the way on the evolution of this industry. 

John Cook, President, Enterprise IT, VT Group and Association of Passive Optical LAN member   

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