Horse Sense #52

For a healthy network, add fiber

Most modern computers connect into a network with a copper connection.  However, there are some great advantages to using fiber optic cabling and connections in parts of your computer network.  Among them are the following:

Fiber offers electrical isolation

Unlike fiber cabling, copper cabling can transmit damaging electrical impulses or noise to connected equipment.  Fiber cabling is unaffected by differences in ground potential and won't act as an antenna that can broadcast networking signals and serve as a lightning rod outdoors.  In fact, fiber optic electrical isolation is commonly used in transmission towers to protect equipment from lightning strikes.  Fiber cabling is the media of choice for connecting closets of computing equipment together in a large building and especially for making runs outside the building.

Fiber isn't susceptible to outside influence

Copper wiring can be affected by nearby power sources and even crosstalk from other communications lines.  Even electrical problems in your PC will transmit down a copper wire.  They won't on fiber.  Fiber signals are much cleaner.  You can put fiber cable right next to power lines or generators that would disrupt copper wired connections.


Fiber connections can run long distances 

Since fiber doesn't have the resistance that a copper wire has, you can transmit over much longer distances than copper without signal degradation.  Using special single mode fiber and high power lasers or diodes, you can transmit signals over 70km (40 miles) without having to run boosters or anything else.  This is why much of the phone and cable network infrastructure is now fiber.  Many manufacturing plants rely on fiber for both electrical isolation and for the ability of fiber to transmit signals for long distances.


Fiber can't be easily tapped into 

Government agencies with security concerns like fiber optic cabling because it doesn't leak signal like copper wires and tapping a signal is harder to do and more easily detected.


Fiber can transmit more data than copper

And it has required fewer infrastructure updates for that reason.  Fiber cables that were run to accommodate 10Mbps networking can accommodate 1000Mbps or greater connection speeds without change.

You can multiplex multiple connections through the same fiber connection

Since different frequencies of light, unlike electrical signals, won't interfere with one another, you can run many high speed optical connections through a single piece of fiber cabling at different frequencies.  This can allow you to put multiple networks through the same fiber optic pipe and they won't see one another.  The same piece of fiber could be used to connect multiple classified computer networks together because the signals would never intertwine.  Also, you could use the ability of fiber to multiplex multiple signals to boost the throughput of that single cable multiple times.  For example, you could make multiple gigabit connections through the same piece of wiring using different frequencies to connect two networks together at even higher speeds.


Fiber isn't expensive

Cabling costs for copper are similar to that of copper.  The cable itself is often less expensive than copper wiring.  In some cases, fiber is preferable because it is very thin and doesn't require all the shielding and space that copper connections require.  The difference in cost lies at each end of the connection.  Optical signals must be converted back into electrical signals at each end.  Typically, this adds at least $100 to the connection at each end.  Still, it is a low price to pay for all of fiber's advantages.

Fiber isn't a fire hazard

Since fiber optic cables don't carry current, they aren't a fire hazard.


Fiber is light weight

Fiber weighs less than copper and is thinner, so it can be used places that copper cabling can't.

Many computer manufacturers make fiber networking components.  One of the leaders in this field is Allied Telesis  Most of the major systems manufacturers use Allied Telesis networking cards when they need to connect a PC into a fiber optic network.  The Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Prisons, US Department of Energy, and many Defense Department agencies use their fiber cards and networking equipment for the advantages that fiber brings them in terms of security and quality.

©2004 Tony Stirk, Iron Horse