The Benefits of Fiber over Category Cable
An increased demand for distribution of video makes fiber appealing to integrators and customers, so here’s a case for the benefits of fiber over Category cable.
The AV integration industry is just starting to realize the benefits of fiber cables versus that of Category cable for long runs between equipment headends and displays. Robert D’Addario, president/managing director of Cleerline Technology Group, noted Cleerline’s SSF fiber products have solved the core issues with fiber deployment, and require no training, nor certification, and are the safest most durable fiber cable solutions on the market.
“We are not advocates for the wholesale replacement of CatX cable, as there are lot of systems and solutions in the marketplace that work, and will continue to work, perfectly fine over CatX cable,” D’Addario said. “Rather, just as the installation community migrated away from component video cabling 6-8 years ago, we anticipate the same type of transition to fiber.”
The main reasons Cleerline is a strong advocate for fiber is that it is more durable, easier to work with, more reliable, and provides an infrastructure that works today and is positioned to work for multiple generations of tomorrow’s technology. There’s also the “distance issue,” says Bob Michaels, CEO of ZeeVee, a maker of AV transport solutions. “If you’re sending information all over a campus or a high-rise building, for instance, fiber is a good choice.”
The Case For Fiber
One only needs to do simple math to realize category cable no longer supports the latest requirements for distributing uncompressed Ultra High Definition video content. The current HDMI specification calls for 18.2Gps bandwidth, and Cat6a is limited to 10Gps on a perfectly installed cable.
“Fiber’s bandwidth is not determined solely by the fiber itself, but rather the hardware it is connected to,” D’Addario said. “Currently there are two examples of HDMI over fiber ‘baluns’ that are pushing 24-30Gps over either one or two strands of fiber.”
Broadata’s Light Bridge product supports uncompressed 4k 60hz 444 HDR over a single strand of OM3 Multi-mode fiber, while Techlogix point-to-point HDMI does 4k 60hz 444 HDR with control over two strands of OM3 Multi-mode fiber.
“In today’s installations, in order for an installer to meet the requirements for uncompressed video distribution, fiber is now required in some form or fashion,” D’Addario said. “We are advocates of bulk fiber solutions because in the long term a fiber infrastructure will be able to handle the ever growing bandwidth demands of not only video distribution, but data distribution in the home or office.”
Fiber is also more durable and easier to terminate with Cleerline SSF than any CatX solution currently available. With a minimum bend radius of 2.2mm, and short-term pull strength of 225 lbs., comparatively CatX minimum bend radius is 85-95mm with short-term pull strength of 25-37lbs. Additionally Cleerline SSF fiber can be terminated consistently in under a minute.
Meanwhile, “The advances in fiber over the last several years in terms of durability have improved tremendously,” says ZeeVee’s Michaels. “I think anybody considering putting in a network 10Gbps or above -- which you should probably be considering anyway -- should absolutely be considering fiber.”
Achieving reliability on those high-bandwidth solutions is a challenge with non-fiber networks.
“In order for CatX to achieve its full bandwidth potential of 10Gps, the cable while it is being installed must never be bent to under the minimum radius, or pulled at under tension greater than the specified maximum,” D’Addario said. “In terminating CatX cable, the installer must adhere to detailed requirements for untwisting the conductors, and crimping the ends. If the requirements are not met, the noise on the cable will interrupt the transmission of signal and reduce the overall bandwidth available.”
So installation stability is a pro for using fiber. The fragility of CatX solutions is directly related to the inherent noise floor of the cable.
“This is the main distance variable for copper twisted pair,” D’Addario said. “In the home or office, the amount of radio frequency, or electromagnetic interference is ever increasing whether it is via new cellular solutions coming online, new wireless access points, or an air conditioner. The bottom line is we live in a noisy environment and the noise is getting louder and denser by the day. Fiber optics offers a unique solution utilizing light as the transmission to avoid noise issues within an installation, and the results overall are installations that have the bandwidth today, and will have the bandwidth tomorrow regardless of the noise floor within the installation.”
Growing Broadband Demands for AV Equipment
It’s not just in long-distance or intense commercial environments where fiber is increasingly preferred by integrators. Richard Glikes, president of consumer electronics buying group Azione Unlimited, says custom integrators are focused on fiber.
“The advancements in high-speed data and AV over IP has stretched the limits of what copper Category 5, 6, and 7 can support. Now that HDMI licensing has defined the HDMI 2.1 spec, Azione Members are searching for solutions that will allow their customers’ projects to be ready for 8K and beyond,” he says.
“Fiber is the only medium that will support 18gb – 48gb+ and every residential integrator should be including fiber in their prewires. Its cost is reasonable, and I understand that it’s rugged, safe to work with, easy to terminate. At our [recent] conference, dealers discussed only doing fiber to ensure future proofing their installations and protecting their clients.”
Fiber has the ability in the physical structure of the cable to handle more bandwidth than what is currently being deployed and new technologies will continue to be developed
Unlike CatX cabling, fiber’s bandwidth is a product of how the hardware connected to the cable performs, not the cable itself. This means that fiber’s bandwidth will continually improve over time in terms of a cost to bandwidth ratio.
“When we started selling fiber to the AV community in 2012, a 10Gps transceiver (the part that converts electrical pulses into light pulses) could cost an installer $750-$1,500 dependent upon the supplier. Today we’ve seen that same part on the market for between $40-$80,” D’Addario said. “Currently there are two strand 40Gps transceivers, and we see companies creating 24-32Gps links over a single strand of fiber.”
Fiber has the ability in the physical structure of the cable to handle more bandwidth than what is currently being deployed and new technologies will continue to be developed to utilize more of the inherited bandwidth light provides.
Conversely, with Cat X, the engineers are constantly needing to reinvent the cable itself to reduce the amount of noise that gets into the signal.
“All we need to look at is the vague HDMI 2.1 specification to see we’re going to need a cable solution that can handle 48Gps for uncompressed 8k60,” D’Addario said. “At that point, we will have exceeded even Cat 8’s capabilities of 40Gps for 30m.”
Bandwidth requirements aren’t likely to lessen. Integrators should put themselves in a position where they don’t have “to be ripping out Cat cable,” says ZeeVee’s Michaels
The Uniqueness of Cleerline Fiber
Cleerline SSF fiber cable utilize a design called “GGP” or Glass, Glass, Polymer. This describes the actual construct of the glass itself. The fiber has a glass core, and then a hybrid cladding to 125um. The cladding incorporates a hard polymer coating that resembles the hardness properties of glass, but provides the benefits of durable sealed polymer.
“We than apply a soft peel acrylate to 250um, but due to the enhanced durability the hybrid cladding provides, we do not utilize a PVC tight buffer,” D’Addario said. “This helps reduce the size of the cable for multi-strand construction, which is an ancillary benefit.”
Overall the GGP design allows Cleerline to overcome a number of hurdles that were plaguing the adoption of fiber for the last 100 yards. First and foremost, it is up to 200 times more durable than any other glass on the market. The fiber has been put through a series of tests that determine the mechanical/dynamic fatigue of fiber, and this metric is used to determine how long a fiber will continue to function under duress. The TIA/IEC standard is an “n” value of 18, while the competition ranges between 18-22 on this scale; Cleerline SSF comes in with a value of 30, stipulating that the fiber can be bent to 2.2mm and maintain a 31-year life expectancy.
What is hidden in the mechanical/dynamic fatigue rating is that there are many bend insensitive fibers available, and where other fibers generally fail isn’t when they are initially bent, rather it is over time.
“What is worse than installing a system, having everything function perfectly, only to be called back a couple of month later because a fiber was installed improperly and eventually failed? This is the life expectancy part,” D’Addario said. “With Cleerline SSF’s GGP design the polymer acts much like the coating on your car windshield—it doesn’t allow humidity to enter the equation, and while micro-fractures will exist, they are stopped in their tracks for a longer period of time. This allows our fiber to be abused well beyond what the competition can handle, and is at the core the reason why we don't require certified technicians to pull our glass.”
Another benefit of its hybrid cladding is dramatically simplifying the termination process. With a standard cladding design, the technician has to be very careful to minimize the amount of exposed glass within the connector. This is critical as silica is very sensitive to the atmosphere, whether it is dust, oils, debris, etc. Each will breakdown the connection over time.
With Cleerline SSF’s polymer coating, integrators do not have to worry about exposed glass, as the fiber is always protected, and therefore preparation steps of the fiber for termination are reduced by up to 50 percent.
“We have literally walked installers through the termination process over the phone while they were at a job site with 100 percent success, D’Addario said. “We ended up creating instructional videos that can get an entry-level installer up to speed terminating fiber within 10-30 minutes.”
Additionally, the hybrid cladding allows for extreme bendability, which in turn creates a glass fiber that will not puncture soft tissue. So where with traditional /standard glass cladding one of the dangers with fiber was the small shards of glass embedding in someone’s skin, Cleerline fiber eliminates this problem completely.
In the end, though, it all comes down to what’s best for the customer and what provides the best overall system performance. Meanwhile, that performance needs to be gauged not just in the present but anticipating the future.
“When you think about bandwidth requirements continuing to increase, you wonder how big that cable is going to get,” says ZeeVee’s Michaels. “When you put in that fiber infrastructure it’s there and remains constant. So you are kind of future proofing.”
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