Technical Support

Fiber optics is a backbone for advanced building and modern life

Author:Takfly Group    Date:2017-03-07    Tags:Technical Support


Fiber optic cables are an integral part of a building communication system. Although they are commonly installed for the enterprise network communication, they are also designed into building-management systems and electrical-power coordination.

With the advent of information and communications technology (ICT), fiber optic cabling is the backbone medium for transmitting data across campuses and through the spine of buildings. This in itself is not new. Fiber optic cabling has played an integral part in network construction since the 1980s. Every year we continue to see improvements in technology, which in turn create more data and therefore highlight the role fiber optics plays in data transport. In the 1980s, data transmitted from mainframe computers, mini-frame computers, and the early local area networks (LAN) connecting business workstations. In the 1990s, mainframes were rapidly being replaced by file servers communicating with desktop computers. E-mail and file transfer generated a lot of the network traffic. During this decade, access to the Internet and Web became available in the office. There was rapid growth in data transmission as the content of the Internet evolved from text to graphics, audio, and occasional video. In the 2000s, video on the network continued to increase. We also saw the migration of telephone voice communications from private branch exchanges (PBXs) using large copper backbone telephone cables to Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), which uses the data network infrastructure.

Through this evolution of computing and networking, there has been a parallel evolution in fiber optical data transmission. The data generated by the building infrastructure is also related to the next emergence of data to be transmitted as the Internet of Things.

Optical fiber VS copper

Copper cable technology has worked hard to keep pace with the continuing increases in network bandwidth requirements. The current high-speed copper cabling standard in theU.S.is a Category 6A unshielded twisted-pair cable. It is rated at a frequency of 500 MHz and bandwidth that supports 10-GB/sec Ethernet for a standard cable length not exceeding about 100 m between network devices. This is more than adequate for most office desktop workstations and even backbone cabling in small buildings where there are one or two communications rooms not exceeding the 100-m cable length.

Fiber-optic glass, which is an excellent dielectric, is effective in providing electrical isolation for the data circuits connected between different buildings on a campus or between communication rooms spread widely apart in a building. The entire cable can be made of dielectric materials, which requires no bonding or grounding. This can help in providing electrical noise isolation for the network equipment and to avoid ground loops.

Communications and control

The largest use of fiber-optic cable in a typical commercial building is for enterprise networks. For industrial and manufacturing facilities, the networks supporting building and manufacturing automation may dominate the enterprise network. For other complex facilities such as a data center or an innovation hub, the building automation system (BAS) can be a significant portion of the enterprise network infrastructure, which is often completely isolated from the data center production network. Instead of a manufacturing-automation network, these types of facilities have networks supporting the data center’s data traffic and collaborative information, respectively.

For industrial and manufacturing facilities, the networks can be categorized into three major groups: office automation, facility automation, and factory automation. Office automation is what we are most familiar with; it includes such services as e-mail, time entry, billing, and other office utilities you would typically access from an office desk. The facility-automation networks provide data services for controlling and monitoring building equipment such as air-handling equipment, lighting control, power monitoring, UPS monitoring, and battery monitoring. For light industrial and commercial buildings, the facility-automation system would typically use a direct digital control (DDC) system.

What all of these networks have in common is that they are using Ethernet as the communication protocol and can be supported by the enterprise information technology (IT) network. The cabling infrastructure provided by IT can handle network protocols other than Ethernet, but the network equipment and architecture typically would not. The IT network may be able to provide a couple of fiber strands in the fiber backbone for a Modbus serial link, but this would not be data going through the IT Ethernet network equipment. IT staff members will design and support the network architecture to provide bandwidth allocation and network segregation between the different networks it hosts. They may choose to physically segregate the networks by allocating separate network equipment and fiber strands for each network type, or multiplex the data onto a few fiber strands using virtual LANs (VLANs) to isolate the network traffic. This is important to note because the network architecture is what determines the cabling architecture and, consequently, the type of fiber-optic cable along with the number of fiber strands that are needed.

Security systems such as access control and closed-circuit television (CCTV) may or may not be included in the enterprise networks. This depends on the building owner and the security plan. The trend in security equipment is to migrate away from analog and proprietary communication protocols to IP-based devices. Often the devices, such as cameras and card readers, are Power over Internet-enabled, allowing them to be powered by the same network cable that provides the data transport. Buildings fall at both ends of the spectrum—from completely segregated security networks, where they have their own network switches, rooms, and backbone fiber cable, to systems where security is just another device on the enterprise network with their own VLAN.

Facility-automation and factory-automation networks rarely reside on the enterprise network. In a control system, designing the SCADA may be on the enterprise network; but the peer-to-peer communications from PLC to PLC or PLC to remote input/output (I/O) panel is on a separate network often using industrial-rated network switches. Control networks may or may not use the Ethernet protocol for communications even though they are still connected with fiber-optic cable.

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