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Feel The Need For Speed?

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April 08, 2022
Communications
Larry Birnbaum

Last year in a series of articles we talked about converged networking. We looked at the applications that support guests and operations and their value in the industry – all with an eye toward the future. 

A refresher course isn’t required, though you may find it interesting if you missed previous installments: 

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The wide array of applications and tools for hoteliers and guests continues to grow. These are largely designed for mobile-first user experiences and incorporate video and high-resolution imagery/graphics. Demands for bandwidth are ever increasing and show no signs of slowing down. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Faster bandwidth with wider accessibility and untethered usage is the mantra. 

Carriers are offering residential broadband with services that exceed those previously offered to many commercial enterprises. While there’s still a digital divide among users, how many of us in metropolitan areas have been offered gigabit internet as a consumer service?

The primary reason we’re seeing so much advertising around speed is advances in fiber optic delivery. It’s now cost effective to deliver faster speeds all the way to the end point (i.e the customer’s network) by deploying fiber optic services all the way, wherever that endpoint may be. Single family homes, multiple dwelling units, senior living accommodations and all corners within a hotel room are now considered the serviceable market. In industry parlance, this is referred to as fiber to the X (FTTX).  

How Do Fiber Optics Work?

What follows is a high-level view of infrastructure and speed. It isn’t intended as a commercial for fiber optic networks. It will explain what guests are receiving and what is setting their expectations wherever they roam, including to a hotel. You may likely count yourself among those users, consumers and guests with higher expectations. 

There’s no substitute for speed. Networks are taking a quantum leap forward and none of them are looking back. How is this possible? 

Fiber optics has a long history. The concept of using glass to transmit light has been around for hundreds of years. The fiber optics for communications that we know today started around 1970 with development of single mode fiber. This glass filament was specifically designed to transmit light as sort of a Morse Code. 

The technology around fiber has advanced quite far from those early days. Strands of fiber within cables have become thinner and thinner. At the same time, these hair-width strands have become less fragile with tensile strength stronger than metals. 

Light as we know travels in a straight line. Engineers have been able to improve the bend radius on fiber optic cables so light can turn corners in buildings similar to traditional wiring. With thinner cables, deployments now take up a fraction of the space. While material costs for copper have gone up, material costs for fiber have gone down. In general, a foot of fiber optic cable costs less than a foot of CAT6 copper cabling. 

Costs are lower for ancillary expenses as well. Costs for conduit, suspension hangers and power are reduced or removed completely. We all end up with a faster transport medium that is lighter, less costly to install and travels much greater distances. 

A number of complementary technologies have also been improved, making fiber networks less costly. Lasers, which generate light for the network, are now less expensive, have longer life cycles and scale in size from quite small to very large. Smaller facilities now receive the same benefits as those previously reserved for large, wide-scale deployments. 

Fiber was considered prohibitively expensive for both material costs, deployment costs and the resources required to install in the field. Today, fiber optic cabling is easier to install than ever and requires no more resources than traditional wiring. 

Many manufacturers provide pre-terminated fiber to insure solid, clean connections. These are available in custom lengths to speed installation time.  When fiber needs to be spliced or fused in the field, splicing kits are available to join fibers using the same staff and work environments. 

Composite fiber and digital electricity can be used to provide remote power to fiber connected devices where needed. This becomes particularly valuable with Wi-Fi access point makers that provide fiber ports for connecting devices – no local ethernet switch required. Access points are tied directly to a fiber connection. 

The federal ReConnect Program – charged with expanding broadband to rural areas and tribal lands – will spur greater adoption and expansion of fiber. As with any product or service, as adoption rises with market acceptance, prices drop with increased volume. 

What Does It Mean for the Hospitality Industry?

There are two major trends now already under way: Increasing speeds to meet a seemingly insatiable demand and lowering costs to increase adoption of faster networks. 

Fiber, in and of itself, is just a transport mechanism. As far as hoteliers are concerned, there are two types:

Single mode: The signal travels straight down the middle of a cable. This makes it possible to transport signals over distances of up to 100 km (around 60 miles) and still operate without significant loss. A typical use case for a hotel environment could be connecting multiple buildings or linking wiring closets within a building or certain types of networks. 

Multi-mode: Has a larger core and transmits data over a shorter distance. It’s good for audio/video applications, local area networks and within a hotel’s wiring closets. 

We’re now seeing a plethora of new network topologies that can operate over these new fiber optic pathways. They allow carriers to provide consumers with a number of options by converging existing coax environments with new fiber optic networks. This includes hybrid fiber copper (HFC) networks. 

Most hotel have one of two types of network options:

  1. Gigabit passive optical network (GPON) point-to-multipoint architecture: From a head end system consisting of an optical line terminal (OLT) in the main distribution room to optical network terminals (ONTs) at the end point, or fiber to the X.  Unpowered fiber-optic splitters enable a single optical fiber to serve multiple end-points. This option requires less fiber and head end equipment.
  2. Point-to-point architecture: A “home run” fiber connection exists between the main distribution room and connecting points. This follows the same organization as a traditional network using active ethernet switching. It provides for flexibility with makers and networking standards. 

Hotel developers and operators now have more options than ever to consider for connectivity. Everyone sees technology as the primary means of enabling and empowering guests and staff in the future. There’s no reason to think a network and communications infrastructure designed in the past will meet tomorrow’s needs. The time to innovate is now. The enemy isn’t innovation and future demands. The enemy is (copy/paste). 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Larry Birnbaum has spent his entire career in the hospitality and technology arena. When he isn't traveling or with his family, you can usually find him on a golf course or tennis court. You can keep this conversation going at https://www.linkedin.com/in/larrybirnbaum/



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