GPON - Completely Changing The IT Infrastructure Norms

The definition of disruptive is "causing disruption."  Disruption is defined as "to throw into turmoil or disorder."  When applied to technology, the term disruptive technology is used to describe a technology that challenges and oboletes a previously accepted norm.  GPON, or gigabit Passive optical networs does exactly that to IT infrastructure for companies across the globe.  It has already had that effect with telecommunications carriers.  Just like the gasoline engine forever changed how vehicles were powered, GPON is in the process of doing the same for IT infrastructure.


Compared to a similarly sized legacy copper active Ethernet LAN project, GPON can save up to 70% of the capital cost.  In addition, GPON provides savings on recurring costs such as power and support of up to 80% and GPON can save up to 90% on the space.  On technology refresh projects where cable upgrades are planned, a GPON solution can save up to 35% on the capital costs with savings on power and space that are similar to new installation projects, providing a green technology and freeing up valuable real estate for alternatives uses.




Current IT infrastructure


To appreciate what GPON means for IT infrastructure, take a minute to review what has been the norm for ITinfrastructure for the last 15 plus year.  Ever since LAN's became the dominant method of connecting devices, we have accepted that copper IEEE defined Category rated cables as the best method of connecting devices with Ethernet.  In the last 15 years, seven different grades of IEEE specified standards have been defined:  Category 3,4,5, 5e (2 levels), Cat6, 6a and now Category 7.


Category 3 was defined as the first standard with Category 4 carrying up to 10Mbps. When Ethernet switches were introduced to carry 100Mbps, Category 5 was introducted to carry the traffic. Changing out the 10Mbps hubs to 100Mbps switches required replacing both the switches and all the connecting cable, a highly disruptive, expensive but accepted method of refreshing technology in the office. The next level of cabling introduced was Category 5e which carried 350Mbps (odd?) at cable supporting 100mHz.  This was upgraded to higher grade (and more expensive) Category 5e 350mhz cable that supports 1Gbps.  However, in the meantime, IEEE defined two additional Gigabit standards, Category6 and 6a which were the accepted IEEE standard for Gigabit Ethernet connectivity.  Again, moving from 10Mbps to 100Mbps to 1Gbps required replacing the cabling in addition to purchasing Ethernet switches.  In fact, that is exactly what typically happens in commercial space every 5-10 years or as often as the affective company decides to upgrade its data network.


Newly ratified by IEEE is Category 7, the next generation of copper cable is designed to provide standard designed to support the next generation switching technology, is due to displace Category 6 and Category 6a starting now.  Current engineering specifications are just now catching up to Category 6 and Category 6e, and the reason is price.  When Category 6 was first introducted, it was priced at over $1.20 per foot of cable with Cat6 jacks costing $10-15.00 each.  While Category 6 cable has dropped to 35 to 60 cents per foot, Category 7 cable promises to have a cost equivalent to what Category 6 cable cost when it was first introduced.  But in this case, it is not as though companies can get by with an interim cable like Category 5e 350mHz cable to provide a stopgap method of cheating.  Like all previous generation changes, th jump to 10Gpbs is going to require wholesale replacement of the cabling infrastructure to Category 7, and the next generation of cable category is already being discussed.  Many companies are just now making the migration from 100Mbps Category 5, and the dilemma they face is, do they purchase already obsolete Category 6 or do they jump to Category 7 at triple the price.  Like the LEC's, eventually businesses will find that copper cabling is too expensive, disruptive to replace and incapable of economically delivering the increasing bandwidth that are required to support business requirements.


Virtually every business, including government agencies, hotels, educational institutions, health care providers and military establishments increases their use of IT infrastructure to optimize their operations, provide new capabilities and reduce cost.  Use of technology to enhance productivity improve the client experience and lower cost includes the use of technology that uses IT infrastructure including LAN and WAN technology.  Ironically, an integral part of the march to productivity includes replacing the IT infrastructure or plumbing every 5-10 years, a process that requires complete disruption of the enterprise in exchange for incremental improvements that include changing out the IT infrastructure consisting of cabling, patch panels, connectors, switches and the list goes on.


There is an alternative, GPON.


GPON was originally intruduced to provide a "multi-service platform" for telephone Local Exchange Carriers (LEC's) to provide analog voice, high speed internet and HDTV to residences.  Faced with the problem that their copper infrastructure was designed to only provide analog phone services and could not support TV (not to mention HDTV), high speed interent, the LEC's installed a fiber based infrastructure based on GPON architecture to provide all these services.  Intruduced originally to enable the Local Exchange Carriers (LEC's) to introduce multiple new services such as Triple Play or Quad Play (voice, data, video and WiFi) and complete with cable companies that were expanding their operaitons to include telephone services, GPON has transformed both cable operators and LEC's, and both are standardizing on GPON for new installations and technology refresh projects.  Unlike cable operators and LEC's that transition their wiring infrastructure infrequently (every 30 years or so), businesses have the need to upgrade their IT infrastructure more frequently, making it logical that GPON would "trickle down" to from Telco's to enterprise businesses.


Based on a ITU standard 984 introduced in 2003 and initially implemented in 2008, GPON uses single mode fiber to provide high speed connectivity with a designed pull distance of 20K for connectivity.  Unlike traditional multi-layer LAN technology used for Active Ethernet that requires a mix of cabling and up to three levels of active components (core, aggregation and edge), GPON is a passive network with only two active components, one at the jack location (home or business LAN jack location).  More important, GPON uses single mode fiber, and within single mode fiber, it uses only two frequencies on a single fiber strand to deliver connectivity, unlike copper cable based LAN infrastructure that requires a 4 pair wire for each connection.  With GPON, design is greatly simplified since only a single strand of fiber is required to provide connectivity, and unlike copper infrastructure, single mode fiber can be spliced and/or equippped with connection points, allowing for new much more efficient design concepts to be deployed.  With GPON, it is estimated that, compared to copper based LAN infrastructure, GPON only uses 10% of the space required for legacy copper based LAN infrastructure, and after installation, consumes only 20% of the power.  The material that is used to make up GPON systems consume approximately 2% of the earth resources compared to copper based LAN infrastructure, and the amount of material required is reduced by as much as 75%, resulting in reduced initial capital costs of up to 70% for new installations and 30% for technology refresh projects.


As stated above, GPON is a multi-service platform that supports analog voice, Ethernet (data, video, VoIP and SIP) and RF video - virtually all the network traffic types that, until today, have typically been designed with different cabling infrastructure - Category 3 copper for voice, Category 5-7 for IP and COAX for RE video networks.  Instead of pulling separate cabling infrastructure for each system type, GPON enables companies to deploy a unified fiber infrastructure to support all the technologies that are needed over a single fiber connectivity solution.  Better yet, the next generation of GPON, called 10GPON and based on another ITU standard 987, can be deployed on the same fiber infrastructure that was deployed for GPON.  10GPON uses different light frequencies on the same fiber, allowing users to deploy both technologies concurrently and selectively on the same fiber. Unlike copper cabling that requires new cabling to be pulled each time a new active technology needs to be deployed, single mode fiber uses additional frequencies of light.  Commercially, 120 frequencies are currently used, and in Bell Labs, a single strand of fiber has been tested to support 1,000 frequencies of light with each frequency carrying 1,000 Terabytes for a distance of over 3,000 kilometers.  In short, passive optical networks using single mode fiber finally deliver an IT infrastructure that is mulit-generational.  With the typical technology refresh consisting of 70% cabling and 30% active components, that long term value of using fiber versus copper is clear and a certain method of reducting cost and increasing flexibility.

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Today the combination of Bandwidth, Wireless and High-speed Internet access is reshaping our economy and our lives more than any technology.  Compared to traditional LAN (Local Area Network) technologies that use Active Ethernet switches, GPON has lower captial cost, 80% lower power utilization, 90% reduction in Floor, Rack and Closet Space and Energy Star equipment.

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