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Tech Talk: A Long Time Coming

Years ago, Dr. Henry Heimlich turned down an endorsement from the Red Cross for the technique he developed to aid choking victims. The organization wanted to state in its literature that one must give three blows to the back of a victim before performing the Heimlich maneuver. The doctor refused, knowing that three blows to the back could make an obstruction even worse. It took the Red Cross nearly 10 years to reach the same conclusion; in the end, Heimlich was right and happy he held his position.

Similarly, in the business world, ideas that at first seem off the mark might eventually be embraced as sound strategies. That is the case with schools that have chosen fiber-optic solutions for their facilities' communications infrastructure instead of copper wiring.

Network infrastructure prices have changed considerably in the past three to five years. With copper costs rising significantly, the price of Category 6 wire has increased steadily while the price of fiber and optoelectronics has steadily decreased. Assuming a copper wiring solution is cheaper than fiber is no longer true. With the new copper Category 7 hardware on the horizon, it is safe to say that the cost of an unshielded twisted pair (UTP) solution has surpassed the price of a fiber solution.

Until recently, the network interface cards (NIC) for an all-fiber solution have been expensive. This made the price for a total fiber solution more than copper. Now, fiber 100FX NIC cards can be purchased for less than $100, making a total fiber solution affordable. New products are emerging that make fiber to the classroom the most efficient and cost-effective solution for schools.

For the past 15 years, some technology consultants have recommended running 4 to 6 strands of multimode fiber to each classroom. This eliminates the need for intermediate distribution frames (IDFs) and places data switches with fiber interface cards in tech cabinets within each classroom. IDFs had been necessary only because of the 300-meter distance limitation that a copper solution possesses. A home-run fiber to the classroom solution reduces the total copper in the building to only that which is inside each classroom, so when Category 7, 8 or 9 comes along, the longest wire to be replaced usually is not more than 25 feet. For the past 15 years, critics have ridiculed this approach, claiming it was overkill. But now, the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) is endorsing this solution, which it calls Fiber to the Telecommunications Enclosure (FTTE).

The FTTE solution is the prudent path for school districts. School systems with a fiber FTTE solution have never had to replace their infrastructure. Advances in the manufacturing of fiber and the termination process have made it easier to install and manage fiber infrastructure. Fiber installed 15 years ago still carries any bandwidth necessary today. That cannot be said for Category 3 and 5 installations.

Copper needs to be replaced; this is why prudent technology consultants always have championed the cause of fiber. Now with gig speed and 10 gig speed networks coming to fruition, fiber still is the only solution for the bandwidth that is required.

Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Young Harris, Ga., a firm specialized in educational facilities and technology planning. He can be reached at [email protected].

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