Data transmission still thrives on a high fiber diet

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Even as the means of transmitting security-related video and data evolves to include more wireless and Ethernet-based options, the market continues to be strong for existing means of transmission such as fiber and unshielded twisted pair.
Fiber in particular has established itself as a viable component for security networks. "Fiber won't go away," commented Ray Coulombe, chief operating officer for SyPixx. "It's a wonderful backbone."
Coulombe acknowledged that wireless transmission has gone beyond being a niche technology to a more mainstream one under the digital model, but he and others interviewed by Security Systems News still make a strong case for fiber-based systems.
The advantages of using fiber, said Ed Davis, vice president of American Fibertek, come down to a single word: bandwidth. "No other medium delivers the potential of fiber," he said.
"Additionally," Davis said, "distance, clarity of signal and the absence of electrical interference make fiber the medium of choice."
And as more end users adopt IP-based technology, Davis said the need for fiber will also rise. "Increased development of progressive scan cameras, large system designs and the need for cleaner signal processing and lengthy transmission distances will all amplify the need for fiber," he explained.
Allon Caidar, vice president of business development at Opticomm, said it would be difficult to switch out fiber for wireless because of fiber's many attributes.
Because fiber is an organic method of transmission, he explained, it is free from problems with interference from other signals and from security issues. "It can't be tapped into or routed away," said Caidar. "You can't steal the signal."
Ed Miskovic, vice president of sales and marketing for Meridian Technologies, agreed that fiber can be used in environments that aren't suitable for other transmission modes, such as UTP or wireless, which can be influenced by external RF signals. "If you put a fiber system in, you don't have to worry about what else is in the building," explained Miskovic. "But you do have those concerns with UTP and wireless."
And, he said, fiber fits well into emerging technologies such as HDTV.
Caidar also cited fiber's bandwidth and range as major selling points. "The security industry deals with video and video is the highest bandwidth signal out there," he said. "And if you need to go a significant distance, you can't compare fiber to anything else out there."
He said although wireless can span distances, it uses highly compressed video that can compromise quality.
While acknowledging that wireless has some quality of transmission issues, Dave Sinise, sales manager for International Fiber Systems, said he has seen its use increase for longer distances. "It's expensive to run fiber in remote locations," explained Sinise. "If they have line-of-sight for wireless, it's a no brainer."
Coulombe said the security industry is still working on deploying wireless, dealing with what he called "learning-curve-type issues."
Davis also said UTP is coming on, especially for shorter distances. "Up until a few years ago," he said, "fiber had the key role in transmission. Now wireless has come out and UTP is a strong contender."
He said coax, while still the most common transmission choice, is steadily losing ground to UTP and fiber. Citing recent AT&T marketing statistics, Davis said "fiber cable is experiencing double-digit growth and UTP is also growing rapidly because of the popularity of the structure in network design."
Some systems offer a hybrid of fiber and UTP, he added, with fiber supplying the trunking applications and UTP used for the branches.
Coulombe cited similar hybrid systems using fiber and wireless. Again, fiber serves as the backbone, he said, while wireless provides the feeders.
With a continuing move toward Ethernet-based systems, Sinise said fiber and wireless can be the means for transmission.
To address this, said director of marketing Frank "Skip" Haight, IFS is developing gigabit Ethernet products.
Like Davis, Haight noted the critical differentiator for fiber is its bandwidth capabilities.
"We can put a thousand videos down a gigabit pipe," explained Sinise. He said even though companies aren't needing to transmit at those levels now, "some users see the bandwidth issue and are future-proofing their networks."
Within the transportation sector in which Sinise sells, he said fiber still represents about 90 percent of systems versus just eight percent for wireless and about two percent for UTP.
Both Sinise and Caidar also said for military applications, where end users want to retain a high quality of signal and security, fiber is the transmission method of choice.
Where other options may make more sense, said the interviewees, are in instances where users don't need the highest quality video or have short runs between the cameras and the recording or viewing systems, such as convenience stores or other small retail or where running cable is too expensive, such as for port security.
Network-based systems in general have proven to be more of a challenge for integrators than the plug-and-play transmission of the past. Davis said if fiber has an Achilles heel, it is the connector system required.
"Even though it has become much easier, it is not as simple as putting on a coax connector or tightening a screw on a terminal block," he said.
Miskovic from Meridian said the engineering community has more to learn about transitioning from FM to digital signals.
He said digital requirements are different for multi-mode fiber. "What we try to do is enlighten engineering firms that if they go digital, there are different implications."
As they transition, he said, they need to reconsider the distances they can achieve. Switching to digital from FM can cut the distance in half, he said.