Passive Optical LAN: The Perfect Partner for the Internet of Things

by John Hoover

Here’s some mindboggling math: By 2020, the total number of connected devices will reach 20 billion, according to a recent Gartner forecast. This means that in about three years, the number of Internet of Things-driven products and gadgets will be nearly three times greater than the Earth’s current population.

Why the dramatic growth? The Internet of Things is expanding so fast because of a marked acceleration in technology. The creation of embedded sensors and the increasing sophistication of cognitive analytics mean that everything from garbage cans to thermostats can provide feedback if properly wired. Cloud computing, which increases the ease in pervasive connectivity, makes it simpler and more feasible to develop and maintain the extensive amount of data that comes with developing IoT in a multitude of products.

All this means that in any one location there can be a seeming overload of end points. For instance, a stadium full of wired critical assets, like video kiosks and surveillance, retail point of sale devices, automated building sensors and fans with connected wearables, needs a local area networking backbone that can shoulder more than a million endpoints. Moreover, the infrastructure that carries this load also much deliver availability to high bandwidth for the 100,000 people in the venue.

Passive optical LAN (POL) is uniquely positioned to carry this burden.

Passive optical LAN delivers IoT synergies that its direct competition – legacy copper infrastructure – cannot. POL is scalable and manageable; it’s future ready and flexible; it provides space savings; and its management and bandwidth allocation features built-in intelligence and scalable bandwidth.

The key characteristic that distinguish POL from any alternative is its centralized architecture, intelligence and management. Essentially, POL works as one big switch with no other switches needed in between it and a vast number of end points. This means that to control a broad array of IoT products – as well as other corporate IT needs – often requires just one data center.

With POL’s streamlined design, there is a reduction in space required as there are fewer telecom rooms, less cable mass and smaller and limited pathways required. All this gives organizations from factories and sporting venues to offices and hospitals more usable square footage, increased security and greater scalability – all at a lower cost – when integrating the Internet of Things into their organizations.

In contrast, the legacy option necessitates risers with multiple telecom rooms to house all the switches necessary to move information via a massive amount of copper cabling. Decades ago, this was an acceptable best-effort configuration as the primary purpose was to carry data. Back then security and bandwidth availability weren’t major concerns. But problems have developed over time. Increasingly, distance considerations have emerged as there is only so far that Ethernet copper cable can go. In addition, as users want to add more end points or make a system better available, more cards and switches must be added. This not only leads to more complexity that makes fixing problems all the more difficult, but it also increases cost, power needs and environmental burdens (through the accumulation of cables and plastics).

POL sidesteps so many of these longstanding headaches:

  • More space: As switches aren’t required, so many of those telecom rooms are replaced with far fewer zone enclosures that need a fraction of the area for fiber cable compared to legacy’s copper cabling. The upshot is that so much physical plant space can be reallocated for other purposes.
  • Greater security: With POL, all Ethernet port defaults are locked. You need a two-way handshake and network access control mechanisms to activate, which offers vastly greater security protection. This is a particularly useful element when the IoT so often deals with sensitive information from personal medical histories at a hospital to credit card information at a point of sale.
  • Improved scalability: The elegant architecture of POL – there is far less wiring than legacy options and less space required – means it’s so much easier to increase the scale of an operation. The pure technology of POL is essential to this ability as well. Consider that one 19-inch rack mount OLT can provide for more than 7,000 gigabit Ethernet connectivity. This capacity makes connecting more IoT devices without a major build-out effort a snap.
  • Lower costs: With less space needed and fewer products required to both set up and, ultimately, expand a future-proof local area network, POL will ultimately cost less than a comparable legacy system. POL deployments have achieved a robust range of savings. These include CapEx savings at 31 to 55 percent; OpEx savings at 40 to 70 percent; and Total Cost of Ownership saving from 32 to 68 percent.

By the nature of its size, the Internet of Things requires a shift in the local area network landscape. The sheer number of products and gadgets that companies are integrating into their daily workflow to do everything from increasing productivity to keeping customers happy is staggering. To meet those demands, organizations must have a network backbone that can be future proof. It must be flexible, scalable, and secure. It must also serve the bottom line by being cost effective — while avoiding being a burden on a physical plant. Only passive optical LAN fulfills these needs. While the closest competitor, legacy copper-based LAN, may have been a viable alternative decades ago, it is far too bulky, insecure and costly to compete with the ever-increasing requirements of the IoT.

John Hoover is the marketing committee chair for Association for Passive Optical LAN and the senior product manager at Tellabs. The Association for Passive Optical LAN is a non-profit organization composed of manufacturers, distributors, integrators and consulting companies who are actively involved in the Passive Optical LAN marketplace. Our members support the growth and education of the Passive Optical LAN industry and are focused on formulationg solutions on how best to market, install, educate and support this burgeoining field.

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