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Passive optical LAN: When network speed, bandwidth and security matter

Copper-based local area networks are increasingly unfit for purpose in a digital enterprise, but passive optical LANs may be a solution. Tech evangelist Paul Ryan, European chair of the Association of Passive Optical LAN, explains why

A local area network (LAN) is the IT backbone that enables all that is possible with enterprise connectivity. With so much on the line, it begs the question: why are organisations settling for antiquated networks that can’t keep pace with today’s technology demands? 

More than 40 years ago, copper-based LANs became synonymous with the LAN. While this might have worked well in the past, this technology cannot keep pace with today’s needs. According to IHS Markit, the internet of things (IoT) market alone will grow from an installed base of 15.4 billion devices in 2015 to 30.7 billion devices in 2020, and an estimated 75.4 billion by 2025.

More devices and more advanced technologies, such as big data, wireless, cloud and hosted/managed services, mean more demand on the LAN – and the long-term outlook for copper-based LANs is a real issue.

The reality is that traditional copper-based networks are limited in speed, reach, bandwidth and security. They are complex to manage and maintain, and force companies to piecemeal short-term solutions to big problems.

For example, every few years, buildings must undergo construction to rip and replace old copper cabling from the walls and ceiling to implement newer, bigger and more expensive copper cabling, for example CAT3 to CAT5 to CAT6. This is a short-sighted and expensive approach.

With ever-changing network needs, sophisticated players are turning to a viable long-term solution. The future of LANs is in fibre optics, with passive optical LAN (POL). The adoption of POL is increasing as the benefits of this technology become clearer and more widely accepted as the ideal way to replace old copper networks.

The enterprise market, as well as sectors ranging from government and education to healthcare and hospitality, are already reaping the many benefits of this emerging technology, such as:

  • Converged approach. Converging all network services is the foremost feature of the POL. It converges all services across a single fibre-based infrastructure, eliminating the need for multiple platforms while providing highly scalable, high-speed data services to all users. This includes voice, video, data and video-conferencing services, as well as wireless access and monitoring services, such as building automation system, security cameras and building sensors.
  • Lower capital and operational expenditure. POL equipment and fibre cabling is less expensive to buy and install. In fact, the point-to-multipoint architecture means less cabling to purchase and install, which leads directly to lower network building costs. Also, POL delivers lower operational costs year-on-year. Based on centralised intelligence and management, it promotes low human touch, plug-and-play and M2M type automation.
  • Unmatched reliability. POL offers enterprise LANs with superior stability, high availability and industry-leading network uptime. A POL configuration can achieve measured network uptime of 99.999%, which equates to only five minutes of network downtime a year. A traditional active cable-based configuration is known to achieve a measured network uptime of 99.9%, which equates to more than five hours of network downtime a year.
  • Security at its best. POL fibre cabling is highly secure and produces no EMI radiation, which is typically associated with traditional copper-wired facilities. Also, POL low human touch operations mean far less human error, or negligent and malicious human activities.
  • Resource optimisation. Due to its reduced component needs and network simplicity, POL requires little time to be deployed and maintained. Another time-saving benefit when compared to copper-based LAN is its certification period. Typically, it takes three and a half days of training, compared with several weeks commonly required for a copper-based network.
  • Space-savings mean increased opportunity. Unlike copper-based LANs in telecoms rooms, POL uses very little space in a building because of its reduced equipment and cabling requirements and limited powering and cooling needs. This means space savings for enterprises that can equate to more comfortable areas or in revenue-generating rooms.

With so many noted benefits, POL has made great progress over the past decade and now that the time for digital transformations is here, the network you have in place can mean the difference between success and failure. It’s time to evolve.

This was last published in September 2017

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