Mike Grice – Sr Vice President of Technology, All Systems Broadband (www.go-asb.com)
Those that have been involved in building communications networks for 15-20 years or more have seen dramatic technological changes over this relatively short period of time. Perhaps most dramatic is the change to the network infrastructure that provides an ever-widening “last mile” pipe to data-hungry businesses and consumers. In 2000, companies with names like World Wide Packets, Optical Solutions, Inc. and Alloptic were creating new networks designed to run fiber optics all the way to a subscriber’s home or business. Since I last wrote about this subject in 2014, the number of fiber-connected homes in the USA has grown over 40%, to a total of about 14 million.
Fiber in neighborhood networks creates a need for equipment at the customer’s premises to convert electrical to optical signals. For many service providers, this marked the first time that power was needed to terminate new connections at the customer’s premises. Because the connections were providing “plain old telephone service” (POTS), battery backup was needed to ensure uninterrupted phone service in case of an emergency. Also, due to the nature of the equipment being deployed, special enclosures that could deal with environmental factors as well as provide security from theft were required. For convenience, and to facilitate network maintenance service, providers insisted on exterior mounting of these Optical Network Terminals (ONTs), ensuring that craft could provide maintenance without having to gain access to the customer’s premises.
Bundling all of these requirements resulted in one, two, or perhaps even three large enclosures being placed on the outside wall of the customer’s building. While homeowners were not thrilled with the adornments on the side of their homes, they can certainly be viewed as “pioneers,” enjoying unprecedented bandwidth that brought them new choices in entertainment as well as speedier Internet connections.
Over the next fifteen years, service providers have continued to refine their business models, and their networks, to reduce the number and size of enclosures required at the customer’s premises. With the amount of investment being made, Moore’s Law quickly resulted in smaller and smaller footprints required for the actual Optical Network Terminal (ONT). Concurrently, reliability and stability led to interfaces that service providers feel confident in placing in the less accessible confines of the customer’s home or building. No longer must ONTs utilize more expensive electronics “hardened” against the extreme temperatures found on the exterior of structures.
A study undertaken recently by one service provider indicates that savings in excess of 50% may be achieved by moving the ONT electronics inside the homes. Such a change in business model will also require the transition of the housings used on the exterior of the building. Today’s modern enclosures now provide a connection point between the highly durable outside plant fiber and the less rugged fiber cable that is used in the building’s interior. Still, these simpler boxes must provide proper cable slack storage as well as a connection point. Design of these enclosures now focuses on the efficiency of installation for the technician as well as a reliable shield of fiber connections from the elements. While it may seem that “any plastic box will do” for such a task, savings of a dollar or two that may come from a less well-designed enclosure quickly vanish when it takes a technician at a loaded labor rate 20 minutes longer to perform a neat and proper installation using the less expensive box.
All Systems Broadband, an Amphenol Broadband Solutions Company, enjoys solving problems. Working with customers, we create innovative products that minimize costs, maximize network assets, and delight customers. Our products provide millions of connections across North America and include an extensive line of fiber passives, demarc boxes, shelves, transceivers, and more.