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How Much Fiber will be in AV’s Diet?

Just how important will fiber-optic networks eventually be for professional AV integrators and their clients?

How Much Fiber will be in AV’s Diet?

Oct 11, 2006 4:08 PM

Just how important will fiber-optic networks eventually be for professional AV integrators and their clients?

In one sense, fiber optics could be hugely important. Fiber offers the potential to deliver the huge bandwidth it will take to support fully interactive videoconferencing, collaboration, and multimedia distribution among multiple sites—capabilities that are increasingly the bread and butter of enterprise-wide AV strategies.

No wonder AV integrators are seen as bandwidth hogs in much of the IT community.

In addition to sheer data-carrying power, though, fiber also offers a chance to say good-bye to grounding issues, interference from other nearby electrical systems, and similar factors that have traditionally hounded AV designers. Fiber cables also can carry data over longer distances without degradation and are highly resistant to intrusion.

The real question, though, is: Just how much fiber can AV pros expect to encounter on their clients’ premises in the near future?

A scan of recent news reports and industry analyses would seem to indicate there’s more fiber than ever being installed, but it still doesn’t amount to a great deal.

Two leading industry associations, the Fiber-to-the-Home Council and the Telecommunications Industry Association, announced last week that deployments of fiber networks now pass within reach of six million American homes and fiber connections have been completed to more than one million homes and businesses nationwide.

“There is increased interest in applications that affect health and education as information becomes available about services and distance learning available through the Internet,” says Michael Render of RVA Market Research, the firm which conducted the study for the two organizations. TIA President Matthew J. Flanigan terms next-generation broadband “a matter of international competitiveness for the United States.”

Terms such as “Fiber-to-the-Home” and “Fiber-to-the-Premises,” identify a technology rollout that, although powered by the huge potential of wiring residential users for TV, telephony, and Internet through a single connection, is also bound to embrace millions of small businesses, office parks, and corporate users as well. These are all prime pro AV customer groups.

For AV integrators, fiber may appear most often as part of “structured cabling,” the building-wide or campus-wide strategy for delivering all kinds of IT and related services through all-digital, and largely IP-based, communications.

Structured cabling installations have stagnated in recent years, partly as a result of market saturation, according to KMI Research, but may be poised to return to double-digit growth rates. Most particularly, KMI believes fiber cabling will surpass copper in the structured cabling systems market by 2008. “Fiber cabling is expected to become the dominant cabling media for structured cabling system applications such as data centers, campus, and Fiber-to-the-Zone,” says KMI.

So, by some measures, fiber is growing rapidly and will be an ever-more-prominent part of the AV integrator’s environment.

Still, the biggest players in this fiber rollout remain the major telcos, the biggest pot of gold remains consumer triple-play services, and the actual penetration of fiber into these huge markets remains fairly small.

The Federal Communications Commission reported over the summer that of the 50.2 million total high-speed lines in operation at the end of 2005, only about one percent were fiber connections to the user premises.

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