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Podcast w/ Bennett Liles: Fiber Optics Technology: The Latest from the FOA, Part 1

The Light Brigade on fiber optic technology and training

Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

FromSound & Video Contractor Magazine, this is the SVC Podcast with Ed Miscovic and Larry Johnson from The Light Brigade. Show notes for the podcast are available on the web site ofSound & Video Contractor

Fiber optic technology continues to extend its influence and the AV field is no stranger to fiber. One of the best places to get fiber training and certification is The Light Brigade and we have Larry Johnson and Ed Miscovic here to get us up to speed on what’s happening in fiber and in the training for it. That’s coming right up on the SVC Podcast.

Ed and Larry, thanks so much for being here with us on the SVC Podcast from The Light Brigade with fiber optic certification and training out on the West Coast. So tell us a little about the Light Brigade.

Larry: Well this is Larry Johnson and The Light Brigade focuses 100 percent on fiber optic training. We’ve been in business since 1986 and been involved with the development of many different types of courses for different segments of the industry. And we’re going to talk about why people use fiber optics and some of the challenges with fiber. We’re a vender-neutral training company. It’s our job to educate people about the technology from components all the way up to systems, how do you test, how do you troubleshoot, how do you design. So we’re very active in this role and we’re very proud of our work, and we have all of our instructors are subject matter experts with different strengths.You mentioned Ed, he’s going to join us in a little while on some of these questions. He’s our subject matter expert and like myself, we both started in the 1970’s when fiber was literally in its infancy and the first installations in North America and worldwide took place. [Timestamp: 2:02]

And along with fiber installation there’s “specing” out fiber systems and a lot of other aspects to it. Larry, what seems to be main trouble area that comes up? In what area is the training most needed?

Larry: Well most of the training is actually with those that are going to be installing the cable, testing and if there is troubleshooting requirements that they have to know how to properly use the equipment, what type of equipment is out there, and how to implement this. Fortunately, the good news is the fiber industry’s been around for four decades now and the fibers themselves – the cables, the connectors, the types of products are mature – but it’s sometimes the integration of those products where people have challenges. For example how to put a connector on a cable or how to test an optical jumper or a span. And so the training is really required there and involves two elements. One is the knowledge component; in other words what is all this terminology and what is it about what type of light sources, fibers, detectors, test equipment. And then the other part is the skills portion. We pride ourselves on doing a balance of both skills and knowledge, but the skills comes down to where you have to show that you can do these tasks. We really enjoy – and I know our students enjoy – the part where after we fill their brain for a couple days then we get them into a classroom where they get hands on for a couple days to follow so that they can be very comfortable with the task in front of them. [Timestamp: 3:43]

Well, it may seem like a long journey at times from when you first jump in and get the basic fiber courses all the way up to when you get to the expert installer level, that’s quite a road to travel isn’t it?

Larry: It really can be. Fortunately we really worked on this for a long time and we’re very good at it. We literally trained in different industries; the telephone, the cable TV, the government designers, so it’s very fortunate. The other thing is we’ve developed different tools for users of fiber optics. These can be something as simple as DVD’s that are chapterized, that have graphics, animations to actual film footage. In that we have a variety of courses, but there’s one in particular that’s focused on this industry and I’ll let Ed touch on that later. We also develop and provide custom courses for clients worldwide. [Timestamp: 4:38]

Suited to their specific application. Fiber has been around for a while now but it continues to spread through the AV industry and extend its influence. What are the driving factors that influence the deployment of fiber in the AV market?

Larry: Well in the mid-1964 timeframe at the World’s Fair there was transmission of video that took place and we immediately, in the communications industry, understood that it was going be bandwidth intensive. So it was great timing because the theories around optical fiber were being established. The optical fibers themselves were in an R&D stage. But I’m going to pass this over to our subject matter expert, Ed Miscovic, who also teaches our Fiber Optics for Pro AV course. He can touch on more specifics. Ed, I’m going to hand this to you now.

Ed: All right. Thanks, Larry. Okay, as we were talking about the forcing functions and system specifications and so on, one of the key things, as Larry mentioned, was the bandwidth. As you see in the AV market with the introduction of 4K video, 3D video, all of those types of things, those are very, very bandwidth intensive. What you find is that those data rates increase exceptionally large very quickly going from the traditional – if you look at some traditional video, some standard CCTV that had a bandwidth of about 5 or 6 MHz, now you’re up to HDSDI that has a bandwidth of about 750 MHz or 1.5 GHz for 1080p, and for 4K it’s quadruple that. The bandwidth increase is rather high so when you start talking about specifying AV systems, the first thing you really have to do is look at the bandwidth of the signals you’re trying to transport and the quantity of the signals you’re trying to transport as well as the distances you need to go. In a lot of cases you can go very short distances on copper, but once you exceed that maximum distance the transport of that over copper becomes very, very limited because of signal dispersion in the copper cable. So you transmit it over fiber. You have higher video data rates and the nice thing when you’re deploying fiber, you get rapid noise-free deployment. You don’t have to worry about is it sitting next to some high-voltage lines. Is it sitting next to some other copper cables that might have a tendency to interfere with it? One of the key advantages of fiber in this environment is that it’s impervious to external EMI or RFI type interference so you don’t have to worry. You can just drop the cable down anywhere and you don’t have to worry about what’s sitting next to it or so on; what’s crossing it, or what’s laying parallel to it and so on. The other advantage is that you can get a lot more information on a single fiber. You can time division multiplex and you can wave length division multiplex. So when you come up to a system and you need to transmit multiple signals, you don’t have to run a coax for everything. You don’t have to run twisted pair or CAT-5 or CAT-6 for each signal. You can just multiplex those using either time division multiplexing or wavelength division multiplexing and put all of those on the same fiber. So it saves in deployment costs, it saves in the weight of the cable. It’s just a more perfect scenario for transporting your signals. For outdoor environments, outdoor events, there’s nothing better than fiber because of its imperviousness to those kind of events, like a lightening strike. [Timestamp: 8:19]

And being less vulnerable to tapping and interception in certain high-security applications.

Ed: Oh, absolutely. I’ve been involved in some systems where they use just a very short distance of fiber – maybe 10 feet or three to four to five meters of fiber to go from one facility, one room into the next room – because of strictly the only thing they needed to do to make sure that it was tap-free, so to speak, transmission medium so they use fiber for that. So it has a lot of advantages and in an outdoor environment you can use lensed connectors for improved resistance to dirt. So in general a fiber deployment brings a lot of advantages to your overall system architecture that copper cable does not offer. [Timestamp: 9:07}

And in any installation regardless of the specific industry, it’s not going to be just all copper or all fiber now. They have to coexist and they’re doing that everywhere. How do they best coexist in the face of constantly changing technology?

Ed: Well that is, again, one of the advantages of fiber. For instance, if I’m using copper and if I want to go from, let’s say, a video over Ethernet – an IP video – and then the next job, if I’m in a rental and staging environment for example, in one job I may be doing analog video or I may be doing IP video. Each one of those requires a different type of a copper cable. If all of a sudden now I want to do HD video over long distances, maybe that copper cable I had isn’t going to provide me the bandwidth I need. Whereas if I deploy fiber it doesn’t matter, it’s signal agnostic. So I can put in analog video one day. I could put in HD video the next. I could put in IP video. I can just do about anything I want and for that matter I can put all three of those on the same fiber at the same time simultaneously. So again, these advantages that fiber brings to the table for rapidly taking advantage of newer technology without having to be concerned too much about what you’re cabling infrastructure is. [Timestamp: 10:26]

And there have also been recent developments for commercial signage situations. I know that’s a fairly copper-heavy environment but there may be certain situations in this where fiber has an advantage as well.

Ed: Well there’s a couple of things you can do with fiber for digital signage applications. One of them obviously is to go longer distances in hostile environments – hostile being environmentally hostile type locations where you might have electrical noise and so on where copper might give you a problem. But also you can also use fiber in an environment where I could optically drop signals to different digital signage boards. For example, if I have – let’s say I have five digital signage boards in a coliseum or in an airport or in a casino. I can optically drop a wavelength to a given location and on that wavelength I could be carrying a certain type of video or I could be carrying, even if it’s the same type of video, I could be carrying different signals. So I can not just electrically drop signals, but I can optically drop them as well giving you a little bit more versatility in the type of architecture and capabilities of your digital signage application using things called optical ad drop modules. [Timestamp: 11:39]

Obviously a lot of different advantages that will apply in different applications and its adoption continues to grow with more bandwidth-intensive jobs to do. Ed and Larry, thanks for being here for part one and in part two we’ll get into color coding and temporary installation such as TV remotes so we’ll see you then.

Larry: Thank you very much.

Ed: Our pleasure.

Thank you for being here with us for the SVC Podcast with Ed Miscovic and Larry Johnson of The Light Brigade. Show notes are available on the website ofSound & Video Contractor In part two Ed will take us through Active Optical Cable and fiber color coding. Next time on the SVC Podcast.

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