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Lead with Light! ... why is Pro AV lagging with fiber?

Posted by Doug Schwartz on 7/25/14 2:26 PM

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A very interesting thing happened to me on my way to everywhere.
After meeting with countless consultants and integrators all over the country, one particular repetitive statement began to reverberate in my head: “We don’t get much call for fiber, but we use it when we have to.” This was a shocking statement to me at first, especially considering it was coming from the technical leaders of the AV industry. But then I realized that this is just human nature clouding the progressive thought process. For all the greatness of mankind, one of the natural responses to change is “fear of the unknown” and this, I realized, is what drives that statement.

OldPhoneI have to chuckle every time I remember Alexander Graham Bell’s story.

After inventing the telephone, Mr. Bell set out on a campaign to inform the nation of his wonderful new communication device. Upon visiting one of the many households on that campaign and as he extolled the virtues of telephony, he was asked by the landowner why anyone would want such a thing. To this he replied: “You could call your neighbor,” only to be rebuffed with the statement, “If I want to talk to my neighbor, I’ll ride over there and talk to him.” Well, fiber is everywhere, and has been for many, many years. As a matter of fact, every time you make a phone call (landline/VoIP or mobile) or connect to the Internet, your data travels over the telecommunications backbone at an incredible 100 Gbps! Every Netflix, Hulu, Roku and dozens of other streaming movie and television providers rely on the fiber optic backbone to deliver that content to your house and business.

Copper cable, the reason for that spinning circle on your computer screen.

Now, you might ask, “But I don’t have fiber in my house or at my business and I get Netflix?” This is true for almost everyone in the United States, but what the carriers and cable companies are not telling you is that fiber optic connectivity is in your city, every city, and that copper cable that you connect your TV to, or Internet cable modem with, is what is called “the last mile” or “local loop” in industry jargon. Put quite simply, it’s the node (the place where the fiber cable is located in your local area) and is the jump off point from the optical backbone to the copper last mile connection to you. And if you do use streaming services, it’s that copper that’s responsible for that spinning circle you see in the middle of your display screen as your program loads and every time there’s a buffering error! That familiar copper cable is a legacy technology dating back to the 1880’s, and is so outdated that in January, 2014, the FCC voted unanimously to approve the retirement of the copper-based networks. Customers are leaving traditional telephone systems in droves, in favor of voice over IP and mobile services. The FCC would like all carriers, telecom and ISPs to have either fiber or wireless networks in place by the end of 2015.

RabbitAlong comes Google Fiber.

Fiber to Anywhere (FTTX), Fiber to the house (FTTH) and fiber to the premises (FTTP) is not a new concept, just one that is not yet ubiquitous. Several years ago, a little company named Google decided that everybody should have access to a fiber optic connection. So it started slowly in Kansas City, KS, and Kansas City, MO. Google built out that fiber infrastructure to provide those residents with a broadband connection of 1 Gbps, both for download and upload (symmetrical connectivity) for $70 per month. That’s right, $70 per month. The average speed in America in 8 Mbps download at around $35 per month. Google Fiber is more than one hundred times the average speed, in both directions! Well, that was then, and this is now. Google Fiber has moved beyond those two pilot communities and now offers service in many other markets including Austin, TX, and Provo, UT, with announced rollouts in Portland, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, San Antonio, Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham. AT&T, in an effort to keep up with the Joneses, has launched their first system (AT&T GigaPower) in Austin, TX, with announced confirmed introductions in Raleigh-Durham and Winston-Salem. They have named the following cities as being explored: Atlanta, Augusta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale,
 Fort Worth, Greensboro, Houston, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, Oakland, Orlando, San Antonio, San Diego, 
San Francisco, San Jose and St. Louis. Also, CenturyLink Gigabit’s Fiber network is lighting up Las Vegas and Omaha. Within 12 to 18 months fiber connectivity will be as common at home and in the workplace as indoor plumbing.

Fact is, fiber is everywhere – except Pro AV!

Okay, I might have gone off on a tangent, so I’ll bring things back around. Let’s look at some facts. The first fiber optic telecommunications system was deployed in 1975 operating at 45 Mbps. By 1980
 the data rate was increased to 1.7 Gbps. Currently LEDs have been largely superseded
by VCSEL (Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser)
 and edge-emitting laser devices, yielding 100 Gbps
 or greater. And in 2013, New Scientist reported that
a team at the University of Southampton had
achieved a throughput of 73.7 Tbps with the signal traveling at 99.7% the speed of light through a hollow-core photonic crystal fiber. In broadcast television, hybrid fiber optic cable has been in use since 2000. Even residential home Hi-Fi has been using fiber since 1983! It seems the only bastion of copper based systems is in the professional AV market, which is totally baffling. The industry of early adoption of Hi-Definition Video, Multi-Screen Digital Signage and Flash-based storage doesn’t lead with light? Today, we can economically convert and transport basically any type of electronic signal without having to worry about Radio Frequency Interference (RFI), Electromagnetic Interference (EMI), Lightning Strikes (EMP) (ever had your system fried by the copper cable receiving that energy and transmitting it directly to the electronics?) and no ground loops. BulbOptical fiber provides secure transport of the information it carries and no compromising emanations (CE) (compromising emanations are defined as unintentional intelligence-bearing signals which, if intercepted and analyzed, may disclose the information transmitted, received, handled, or otherwise processed by any information-processing equipment). And there is no theoretical limit to the amount of data that optical fiber can carry! The designs of current AV systems utilizing full hi-definition displays, multiple channel audio systems and command and control signals will need to be updated with the next generation of 4K UHD in, what, a year? And then what, 8K UHD in a few years after that? We live in an always-on, 24/7 I-want-it-now, on-demand world. If you are not leading with light by designing your customers’ multimedia systems utilizing fiber optics technology, not only are you not providing the best value, scalability and return on investment to your client, but when all of that fiber connectivity starts showing up in customers’ homes and businesses, I’m afraid that you will be left in the dark.

Topics: FTTX, Pro AV