Future Of Fiber Networks – ‘4S’ Design Considerations

As we have established many times and in this previous post on DOCSIS 4.0, fiber optic is a far better medium than cable, when it comes to transmitting packets at speed / lower latency and supporting growing bandwidth needs.

The below video from Fiber Broadband Assocation with an expert speaker from a company who is a pioneer of glass science, ceramic science, and optical physics, talks about the future of fiber networks. Learn about some current day innovations and new developments in fiber optic technology.

Fiber Networks – 4S Design Considerations Video


The Future Of Fiber Networks Video Transcript

Gary Bolton: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Fiber Broadband Association’s Fiber for Breakfast. We’re now in our 21st episode of 2023. But before we kickoff, I’d like to thank Wesco, the platinum sponsor of Fiber for Breakfast, and our gold sponsor, Graybar.

You know, a lot is going on in DC. On Monday, President Biden announced he’s going to nominate Anna Gomez for the fifth and open FCC Commissioner seat. Gomez is currently a senior advisor at the State Department, working on telecom and was formerly at NTI and at the FCC, and won a one-time Wiley Rein partner. Also, FCC Commissioners Starks and Carr were renominated.

Also, yesterday, the Energy House and Commerce Committee held a Communications and Technology Legislative hearing on the oversight and reauthorization of NTIA. So, of course, Alan Davidson, the Administration for NTIA testified and defended that NTIA is following the IIJA statute, as relates to BEAD, NOFO, and the technology preference.

He also mentioned that they’re considering BEAD waivers for By America, but really needs to understand where there are major issues. And lastly, emphasized efforts to coordinate with other agencies on federal lands, such as permitting.

And today, Energy and – the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a markup session will include legislation to address broadband permitting. So again, something we’ve been really focused on.

And last week, you know, in Fiber Broadband Association, we were in Austin for our Regional Fiber Connect workshop. And then following, on Wednesday, following our event, Marissa and our members from the public policy committee held a morning session with the Texas legislature at the Capitol.

And on Friday, we were absolutely thrilled to see the Texas Legislature passed legislation requiring the Texas Broadband Office to prioritize fiber for the state broadband funding projects. This is a huge victory for the citizens of Texas. And as you guys may know, Texas will be the largest recipient of BEAD funding. I was thinking about 3 billion, their broadband offices kind of thinking 4 billion, but they’re going to get a lot of money. So it’s great to see that it’s going to be all fiber.

Our next Regional Fiber Connect Workshop will be in Lake Tahoe, in California on June 21. We hope to see you at the beautiful Squaw Valley Resort for this important educational event. And also, registration is open for Fiber Connect ’23 in Orlando, August 20 to 23rd. So we just opened up registration, I guess a week ago or so, and we’ve had the quickest level of signups than we’ve ever had in any conference. So this is going to be the biggest and best Fiber Broadband event in the world this year with over 4,000 attendees and an amazing program.

This also brings us today’s Fiber for Breakfast session with Mike O’Day, the Chief Technology Officer for Corning Optical Communications to discuss Planning the Future of Fiber Networks 4S Design Considerations.

But before I formally introduce today’s guest, I’d like the introduce Trish Ehlers-Mateen, who’s was going to walk us through some housekeeping items.

Trisha Ehlers: Thanks, Gary. And good morning to everyone who’s joined us today. Before I go over a few logistical items, we’d like to once again thank the platinum sponsor of Fiber for Breakfast. Wesco, and our gold sponsor, Graybar.

Now, if everyone would please keep in mind that you’re all in listen mode only. To ask a question, you can type it into the question panel in the right side of your screen. We’ll host a Q&A session with Mike at the end of today’s session. This presentation is being recorded and will be available on FBA’s website within 24 to 48 hours. You can find the recording in the Events tab, under the Fiber for Breakfast drop down option.

At the conclusion of today’s presentation, you’ll be prompted to complete a very brief feedback survey. Please take a minute to do that. We really appreciate your input. I’ll pass it to Gary now to introduce our panelist, and get us started. Gary.

Gary Bolton: Thanks, Trish, and good morning. I’m Gary Bolton, President and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association. You know, last week on Fiber for Breakfast, we’ve heard from Sally Doty, the Mississippi State Broadband Director, and Quinn Jordan, the Mississippi Broadband Association, as we discussed, Turning the Tide in Mississippi with Fiber.

You know, Mississippi got off to a late start with their broadband office, but Sally and Quinn have teamed together to accelerate fiber deployment in Mississippi. Today, on Fiber for Breakfast, we have the pleasure of hearing from Mike O’Day, the Chief Technology Officer for Corning Optical Communications to discuss, Planning the Future of Fiber Networks: 4S Design Considerations.

Mike is the Chief Technology Officer for Corning. Mike, responsible for leading the disruptive innovation programs and adoption by customers while aligning the optical fiber cable and connectivity R&D organizations to deliver innovations required by growth, for growth.

Mike joined the Corning family upon leaving the US Army in 1998. So Mike, thank you for your service. And most of his career has been spent managing Corning’s optical connectivity products, helping launch fiber to the home products in support of Verizon’s Fios initiative.

And Mike hails from northern Missouri. He received his undergraduate degree from the West Point in the US Military Academy, and his masters from Minnesota State University, and he spent seven years active duty as a Field Artillery Officer, primarily in the Fourth Infantry Division in the 29th Artillery Regiment, participating in training peacekeeping operations after the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

So again, welcome, Mike. And for audience, please type in your questions in the go, and we’ll work them into the Q&A at the end. So I’ll turn things over to Mike.

Michael O’Day: OK. Thank you, Gary, for your introduction. And we are grateful on behalf of Corning for this invitation, and all the – all of us in Corning appreciate our long standing partnership with the Fiber Broadband Association. So, we can go to the next slide.

I thought it would just start with a very brief overview of Corning, and our background. We’ve been around for over 170 years, pioneers of glass science, ceramic science, and optical physics. And the theme of today’s discussion will be around innovation, and that’s one of our seven core values and how we like to innovate around close, with close collaboration with our customers to solve tough technology challenges. Next slide.

I’m part of the Optical Communications Division within Corning. And our, this is our headquarters building. It’s located actually in Charlotte, North Carolina. We have, over the last several decades, since I’ve worked with Corning, 25 years ago, has developed many breakthrough innovations that have steadily moved our industry forward, starting with low-loss optical fiber, nearly 50 years ago, or more than 50 years ago, and then up through our latest innovations in continuing in fiber and cable, and conductivity throughout this time.

So if you go to slide, the next slide, you’ll find Corning in nearly every segment of the telecommunications network. We serve carrier networks that bring high speed connectivity to people in more places, serving data centers that support today’s data rich applications, enterprises, like hospitals, universities, and hotels that turn to us for fiber optic architectures that deliver seamless connectivity throughout their buildings.

And lastly, to the OEM segment, micro optic connectivity solutions for the OEMs. That’s a business that we serve from a Corning perspective, and you’ll find fiber reaching into all of these application segments. Next slide.

So just to elaborate briefly on what’s happening in each of these four, because it really forms the basis of Corning as well as the industry’s innovation pipeline. I’ll start with the carrier networks, broadband is happening and its connectivity is increasingly seen as essential infrastructure, just like or much like electricity.

And so like you, we at Corning are super excited to see the current wave of public investment in broadband networks, such as the BEAD program, the $42-billion BEAD program, recognizing that making internet for all reality, which will be a tremendous undertaking in the US.

And currently, as many of you probably know, only 19% of citizens in the US are connected to fiber, to a fiber network today. The second one in the cloud space, when you connect more customers, essentially, what’s happening is consumers need to hook up these high broadband, high speed broadband networks. They are going to consume more videos and access more information through the cloud.

And as a result, our data center customers are really expanding as rapidly as they can to keep pace with what’s happening in the broadband side of the network. On the enterprise side, we talked about Fiber Deep, but one thing I would just note that enterprises need to support a workforce today that’s partly remote and partly on site with seamless connectivity, with a seamless connectivity experience.

When we talk about horizontal in the 5% of the reach with fiber, there’s a lot of work to do, because it’s still largely a copper based network. You have fiber in the backbone, but how do you continue to drive fiber deeper into the network to enable, you know, future technologies like 5G and Wi-Fi 7, and what’s beyond inside of the building to ensure that seamless connectivity.

And lastly, the OEM space, where we’re seeing exciting opportunities for innovation through co-packaged optics, where we will extend optical connectivity, you know, all the way to the chip, which allows operators to boost performance, but as importantly reducing power consumption in data centers, for example.

So those are the mega trends that we see happening, and that is what guides Corning’s innovation pipeline in these various telecom segments. The next slide.

So, Gary mentioned the 4S model, and I’ll explain briefly what each of those are and provide a few details as to what we’re doing on the innovation side. You know, foremost, our industry, we are at an exciting moment in time to connect the unconnected, and deliver access to really many life changing applications. And fiber networks are at the center of it all. But meeting this opportunity and time calls for a new commitment to innovation from companies like Corning, for our entire industry ecosystem, in four areas, four key areas, what I call the 4S model.

Speed, you see, which is really building broadband networks and data center scaling have to build faster to stay ahead of the surging bandwidth and meet the required timelines frankly, for government supported projects.

Size, space is increasingly at a premium, whether in the field central office or a spine to leaf link inside of a data center. And so we have to maximize the physical real estate that’s available with this dense of solutions as possible.

Simplicity, it’s really around, we recognize that skilled laborers is in the in the field actually remains quite scarce. And so operators have to figure out ways to use new solutions to help them scale with fewer resources, and minimizing errors.

And lastly, Sustainability, which is really around developing solutions that have a reduced carbon footprint so that we can help our customers meet their aggressive environmental targets and build a more sustainable world.

So let me unpack each of those just briefly in a few slides. If you go to the next one. I’ll start with Speed, the first S, and this is really about how do you deploy a network faster. It’s critical for many reasons to stay ahead of bandwidth demands, meet aggressive timelines that are required to, you know, from government-funded deployments, and to make sure your deployments, customer deployments are as cost effective as possible.

And so for decades, we’ve focused on innovation to help customers deploy their networks faster. And for example, what you see on the right is our, one of our most recent innovations launched a couple of years ago, called, the Evolv® Solution with push lock connectors. And they’re fast easy to install, you just simply push, click, and connect, and now you’ve accessed and activated a line to a consumer.

And what we have found over the course of time is that these solutions have proven to speed the install the fiber to the home networks in half the time versus traditional splice networks. So that’s the significant point that I’d re-emphasize, half the time. So if it takes you six months to deploy, a weekend, what we have seen is it will cut that in half.

And to give you some, maybe some credibility to the Pre-con Solutions and speed, we’ve now recently celebrated a milestone at Corning, where we have passed, over the past really two decades, almost 100 million homes around the world have Pre-connectorized Solutions. And it’s all built around the value prop of speed, getting networks deployed faster, which in turn, that allows you to set, you know, turn on services to customers much more quickly.

If you go to the next slide, let’s talk about Space, really Size, I’m sorry, limited Space. But when we talk about Size, what we are, you know, space is increasingly at a premium, or pathways congested and denser solutions are in fact, needed.

And so one of our new, one of our innovations, if I unpack them from the top to bottom on the right, a new fiber called, Contour fiber, an SMF-28 fiber, single mode fiber, 190 micron fiber that enables smaller cables. And so, important, because it now lets the operators maximize the use of existing, of an existing ecosystem, but also shrinking the footprint of the fiber network system.

Data centers are maximizing fiber pathways with flexible ribbon, many extinct cable, and that’s a 200 micron ribbon technology. And what that allows operators to do, whether it’s in a data center or in a carrier network, but you can get more fibers now in a duct. And duct space is increasingly constricted, crowded, and so the more fibers you can put in a finite amount of space is better for the for all of our customers.

And lastly, on the connectivity side, I mentioned the above platform, you can see the terminal there. Essentially, what we did is take the connector, if you’re familiar with the Opticap® connector, or hardened connectivity. That connector is the size of a broomstick handle is a way to think about it, the new connector is the size of a pencil. And so you can imagine when you shrink the space by over 50%, it allows you to do many new things for space and then a handful on a facade in a data center is constricted. We are we are working to develop solutions to take advantage of space constraints.

The next one, if you go to the next slide around Simplicity. You know, our industry is and will continue to struggle with the scarcity of skilled labor. And that’s why Pre-connectorized Solutions that I mentioned earlier have had such a big success. And we haven’t stopped since the, you know, since the beginning of Fiber in The Home in 2004 in a significant way, innovating around this.

And so what we’re trying to do is simply reduce the dependency on field labor. And what we did when we do that, what happens is, or we see safety benefits in the field, people are not on ladders or poles nearly as long throughout the installation of a network.

What we’re also seeing is, you know, for every splice that’s done in a factory, it’s tested and the connector is sealed to enable a plug and play experience. And so we reduce rework, and testing, and troubleshooting in the field, as well. And so it just makes the network simpler and easier to deploy.

If we go to the last S, the next slide around Sustainability, and, you know, everything that we do, are doing at Corning is really with this in mind, and it starts with the innovation. If you can conceive a new product that’s greener and leads to a lower carbon footprint, we are trying to do that.

And then we have a couple of examples that you’ll see a picture on the screen about a cable that’s, you know, over 50% smaller with the same number of fibers in a cable. And you really don’t give up much when you actually have to use and handle that cable to splice it or to terminate that cable.

And so what we’re doing, we on our invent side, we’re embedding design rules in place to really take advantage of how do we design things with a lower carbon footprint, both the product as well as in our manufacturing system, how do we reduce the greenhouse gases, water, waste, energy in our operations.

One notable highlight for cable folks, in 2022, for instance, we implemented a real wooden, real cable real return program. And this program saved the equivalent of about 12,000 trees alone last year. And so it’s sort of interesting to see, but there are so many untapped areas that we can explore and exploit to figure out how to build a world that’s a little bit more sustainable.

And so that’s what we’re doing, and you’ll see some of our goals, what we’re doing try to reduce scope one and two emissions by 30% by 2028 and… three as well. OK, next slide.

I want to just touch on briefly before I close on the rural deployment and the opportunity. And so we are super excited by the work that Gary, you, and Fiber Broadband Association have done and participated in. And I think for everybody on this call, we look forward to the day when every US citizen is connected with rural broadband connectivity, because it will unleash the potential of what this country and what our citizens are capable of.

And so we are, at Corning, proud and delighted to be a part of it. And then trying to do our part, frankly, through innovation and products, to help networks be deployed faster, cheaper, more simply, but also in the form of capacity. And I’ll touch on this briefly.

Since 2020, we’ve embarked upon a significant capital campaign within Corning, you know, delivering or totaling over $500 million of fiber and cable, domestic fiber and cable capacity in the US, across the country, largely in North Carolina, but in other regions of the of the country as well.

So that as, as the funding, government stimulus funding takes place, starting next year. I want to share any customer on the line that we are ready. We formed a couple of commercial partnerships with NTCAA that you might be familiar with. And so we are ready and trying to do our part to be ready to enable this wonderful opportunity that sits before us all.

OK. I’ll close with the last slide, which is really delivering on the promise of ubiquitous broadband to all, which requires new waves of innovation across fiber cable connectivity, and the entire suite of products in the ecosystem.

I hope you find the four S framework useful in thinking about how Corning is thinking about anything that we are designing, a new product, a new development needs to touch on one if not all of those Ss, because those are what’s important to getting a broadband network deployed cheaply, faster, and more sustainably.

And so, but we need innovative thinking, not just in the labs, but in the manufacturing and commercial areas as well. And I think you’ll see, you know, over the course of time, a new wave of innovation that will require kind of a sustained commitment from the ecosystem operators, standards, bodies, installers, and equipment manufacturers like Corning.

And so we’re going to be with everybody on this call on this journey to expand the bandwidth of human potential. And so I’ll go to my last slide, and just close with that, and turn it over to Gary for the Q&A. But I just want to say thank you, Gary, and the Fiber Broadband Association, once again, for allowing me to be with you today. And we can turn on to the Q&A.

Gary Bolton: Well, Mike, this is great stuff. And you know, I really appreciate all the amazing innovation that you and Corning are doing. So one of the questions I always get asked, you know, and it’s very confusing for legislators is, how long does fiber lasts? You know, we, it’s been in the ground since the ’80s, but how can people think about this? Is this?

Michael O’Day: Yeah. Well, you know, fortunately, perhaps we don’t actually know how long it can last because some of the first fibers that have been put in the ground in the ’70s and ’80s are still in operation today.

We had a customer of ours that shared this point. We, they are running, you know, modern, coherent transmission systems today over a portion of their Metro and local network with fiber that was installed prior to 1986. And those came from a customer, a big customer of ours that’s been deploying fiber for, you know, for a number of years. And so it’s performing well.

Now, what I would say through all of our testing and aging testing that we’ve done in our own labs, now if the cable was installed and operated properly, meaning it wasn’t installed under stress, and there’s not water and grass, or there’s a leak in the cable, we actually haven’t found when the longevity of fiber, actually, you know, ends.

And so we’re excited about that, and we want to, you know, if we can help dispel any myths, that fiber only lasts a certain period of time, what we can assure you is it lasts a long time, you know. And we wouldn’t put a year on that because we actually haven’t found it if it’s installed in the right conditions.

Gary Bolton: OK, so fiber lasts for decades and decades. So one of the other things that keeps coming up is speed, you know. Like, even yesterday on the Hill, and people are arguing, “Oh, well, you know, rural America doesn’t even need 100 by 20.” And, you know, so we’re seeing 10 Gig networks going today, now, 25 Gig networks, and Nokia is, you know, was demonstrating in our conference 100 Gig PON. So what can we think of, like speed, what do we – should we anticipate? Where is the speed going?

Michael O’Day: Yeah. Let me answer that through what’s possible on a fiber. Because as the speeds change, and you mentioned the 100, 120, 120 in legislation to require, the requirement for a rural broadband network. But the fiber, you don’t have to worry. You know, the high end or the data throughput of fiber for traditional fibers, and we have to be clear on this, because there are some, you know, different fiber types and some hero work that demonstrates some really tremendous speeds.

But for a single core, single mode fiber, which is what traditionally is deployed in the long haul Metro and access networks, we see the fiber being capable of at least 250 terabits per second. And so far exceeding the speed you just mentioned. And that’s on a single core, single mode fiber.

And so, now, there are other – can it exceed that? Yes. You know, if we talk about multicore fibers or other technologies that are being worked on, and interesting, maybe for some niche or some unique applications, submarine, for instance, you might see data rates that even go higher. However, I will just tell you that, you know, the capability of a single mode optical fiber far exceeds the speeds that we see, you know, really for the foreseeable future in an access network.

Gary Bolton: So we can anticipate that even today, we can think of hundreds of terabits and it shouldn’t be a problem for the fiber that’s been deployed?

Michael O’Day: For what has been deployed and continues to be deployed, you won’t have to upgrade or replace your plant, because the speeds needed at the residence or at the business will not exceed what’s capable in the single mode fiber.

Gary Bolton: And, you know, so we had Tellabs come in and tell a lot of state legislatures that, well, the fiber in there today is going to be pulled out in the next couple of years. Because, you know, we’re going to go to multimode, or something, or some other technology advancements in fiber. But we were talking yesterday, you know, you’re saying with a 250 micron fiber is going to be shrunk to 200 micron. But even as we move those innovations, those fibers will be compatible, right? You’ll be able to splice those together, and…

Michael O’Day: That’s right. Yeah, we were working on, I mentioned, Contour fiber. It’s a 200 micron fiber. Most of the deployed fiber today is a 250 micron fiber base, but there are ways you can, you know, that are backward compatible, that you can splice, for instance, a 200 micron ribbon or loose tube cable design with a 250 micron installed base if you need it.

And, of course, 200 to 200, absolutely no problem. But it’ll require a little bit of extra work when you spice it together. But there is no issue of obsoleting any of your plant because you move to a different, to the 200 micron fiber type is not actually true. That’s not needed, not the case, it does work and we will ensure that does, in fact, happen.

And you know, you have to measure the benefit, do you mix your plan? And it might take an extra few minutes to splice 12 fibers, the 200 to 250 on the fiber size. However, the benefit of 200 allows you to put a lot more fibers in spaces. And so I think customers and operators are going to want to do that over the course of time.

Gary Bolton: So quickly, one of the things you know, your innovations are about, you know, having pre-engineered fiber cables, and being able to – then have these connectorized and so forth. So, I get all these questions, like how much slack loop do you need? I mean, so when you’re doing pre-connectorized cables, how accurate do they need to be? And you know, is that easy to deploy? And do they have to worry about?

Michael O’Day: It’s a great question. Because there’s a myth or a barrier out there that is right and natural to ask, if you’re a pre-engineered, if I don’t get it right, what happens? And we tell you we pass now with our FlexNAP™ technology, which is pre-engineered in the factory, we take a measurement from the customer in the field, build the cable exactly right, and ship it, and it gets installed in almost no time.

You know, being accurate, it’s helpful, the more accurate you are. But I will just tell you, you don’t have to be precise. We build and have mechanisms in place to ensure that if you’re off by 10 feet or 50 feet, or 100 feet, we have lots of ways. There’s not a deployment scenario that we haven’t encountered that we can’t figure out how to use that cable and make it work.

But generally, it’s not a lot different than what an operator would do today, when they go out and decide and measure the same measurements. If we have that, then we can pre engineer it. And, you know, 99.9%, this is about right, of the cables that we made in our factory, the pre-engineered, have worked.

And so just to give you some confidence in the ability to do this, to design it, that we can overcome that barrier quite easily. And we’ve proven that with over 50 million homes passed with the technology.

Gary Bolton: So if you look for performance, speed at deployment, and having less scale installers, that’s the way you’d go engineer fiber?

Michael O’Day: That is what we would tell you. You’ll save money, speed, and your network is going to be done and installed in a much more reliable way.

Gary Bolton: All right, just two quick questions here, and I’ll add these together, but they came from the same person, but one is on growth. You know, I think last year, you know, we certainly saw a lot of fiber growth, and you guys have a feel on what you’ve seen that growth will be. And then the other was on climate change, and so forth, that you see more tendency towards buried or aerial.

Michael O’Day: Uh-huh. OK, I’ll start on the growth, and I’ll be brief. I know we’re at the end of time. But on growth, we would view what we are doing right now. We’re in a multi-year growth cycle that lasts, you know, we think the better part of this decade and well into the next, just given the macro trends that we see both in the broadband network and the cloud data centers driving that growth.

And so, however, it’s not linear. And, you know, right now, we’re seeing a little bit of a contraction this year, for a number of reasons, whether it’s an inventory hangover or just uncertainty in the global economy, what’s happening, that operators are scaling back their plans this year. But we expect growth over the long term.

And our CFO just spoke yesterday, and so you can see what Corning thinks publicly, what we shared with our investors yesterday. But the fundamentals of optical growth remained super strong for many years to come.

Now, aerial versus buried, I would say, I don’t know if I know the answer to that completely. We see a mix. We have seen a mix over the years. Maybe we’ve deployed more aerial than buried in the networks that we have installed or been a part of an installation with an operator historically. And I think that is moving more from aerial to buried, simply because aerial is a little faster and cheaper to get deployed than a buried network.

And so I think we might see more buried over the next decade to pass the homes that require to bury network, then there, and I think more homes probably sit out there that haven’t been connected that would require a buried plant would be my sense, what I believe.

Gary Bolton: Well, Mike, we really appreciate it. You know, I always love talking to the guy, the Chief Technology Officer at the largest fiber manufacturer. So thank you very much. I really appreciate what you and Corning are doing to really advance the fiber optic technology.

And I want to thank our audience for joining us today. And look forward to getting together next Wednesday, where our guest is Offir Schwartz, the Founder and CEO of Capcon Networks is going to discuss Rural Broadband Operators, Internet Exchanges, Peering, and the User Experience. You’re not going to want to miss that.

So thanks again, Mike. And we’ll see you guys next time.

Michael O’Day: Thank you, Gary. Take care.

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