Newsletter Sign Up

Getting Your Network Infrastructure up to Speed

Retrofit existing commercial buildings with fiber optic cabling to bring them into the digital age

More capability with less cabling.

In a nutshell, that’s the appeal of replacing old copper wiring with fiber optic cables, says Brian Davis, Director of Global Market Development for Corning Optical Communications.

If you’re working on an adaptive reuse project, the space available for network infrastructure in older commercial buildings is already pretty limited. “So, pathways and where I can actually put cable is already set, I really can't grow that. These are usually very constricted areas,” explains Davis. 

Which isn’t great news, considering we need more power and faster connection speeds than ever before. So, if you simply replace old copper cabling with newer copper cabling, you’ll need even more of it than before. 

Enter: fiber to the edge (FTTE). 

Fiber optic cabling extends connectivity to the very “edge” of the network in your building. “The reason why it's called the ‘edge’ is it's the part of the network where you're actually connecting your devices,” says Davis.

Space in the plenum for connected infrastructure is at a premium

Image Credit: Leanna Rathkelly

It also costs 30% less to install, lasts far longer, and is more sustainable than copper wiring, which makes it a no-brainer for all the adaptive reuse projects taking place these days, he says. 

According to the AIA, 50% of architectural firm billings were for renovation, retrofitting, restoration, and reconstruction projects. These numbers surpass revenue earned from new builds for the first time ever in 2022.

And many of them need updated network infrastructure that can power multiple live video streams, hundreds or thousands of devices on Wi-Fi simultaneously, and servers feeding large volumes of data into the cloud from within the office.

“We’ve got bandwidth requirements beyond what copper cabling can cover,” explains Davis.

Fortunately, advanced network and electrical systems (which some call connected infrastructure), such as fiber, can be used to transform vintage spaces into enhanced work environments able to support “unlimited bandwidth,” says Davis.

Fiber optic cable can cover greater distances that copper networks

Zooropa Video Production Agency

Access both short- and long-term savings, plus greater sustainability

Copper cabling requires a lot of material, time, and labor to install or upgrade.

In a standard, multi-story commercial building, each floor tends to have one fixed connection point, Davis explains. And behind the walls or beneath the flooring, thick copper cabling — linked to that single connection point — is installed with extra slack to avoid coming up short.

There’s a lot of waste and this type of network doesn’t even provide the high-powered connections most tech-enabled environments require. 

Fiber, on the other hand, is “the size of a human hair” and expands connectivity with 70% less cabling. Its cost savings also extend long beyond initial install. While copper cabling must be replaced every seven years on average, fiber is a 50-year asset, says Davis. 

This makes fiber an unbeatable option for adaptive reuse projects that require re-cabling, especially when upgrading heritage buildings with strict preservation rules and space constraints, he notes.

A single fiber optic cable is a fraction of the size of copper and can carry exponentially more information

Then there’s the sustainability argument. 

With fiber, embodied carbon — physical material containing carbon — is reduced by 6.8% over a building’s 30-year life cycle, a rate that is unparalleled in the industry, Davis says. 

“Fiber optic composite cable contains less carbon than Category 6A cabling when you look at EPDs (Environmental Product Declarations) for each product. Category 6A is the type of cabling that is typically used for indoor networks.” And of course you’re using less cabling overall as well. 

Energy use, or operational carbon, is also reduced, and altogether this “can translate into two LEED points,” Davis adds. 

A Whole-Building  Life Cycle Assessment (WBLCA) completed by Corning, revealed standard Category 6A cabling infrastructure can increase the operational carbon of a building by more than 84.9 metric tons of equivalent carbon dioxide — which is 8% more than a Fiber to the Edge enabled structure, he says.

So, if fiber costs less and enables more, why hasn’t it become the standard in commercial construction (since it’s been available for decades)?

“Because we don’t like change,” says Davis. This is the main reason why fiber can still be a tough sell in the construction industry, which is accustomed to doing things the same way they always have, he says. 

“There's just this established status quo that is really hard to fight.” 

Davis points out that in many sectors such as telecommunications and technology, fiber is the norm though. 

“Google, Apple, Amazon…they build huge data centers that used to be completely copper cable and they are almost 100% fiber.”

Google is one company that uses Fiber to the Edge

IMAGE CREDIT: Marco Zecchin

Fiber is a perfect fit for modular systems

The only thing that makes more sense than fiber optic cabling, is fiber optic cabling that’s been precisely pre-measured, cut, and installed as part of a modular construction system. 

In a modular scenario, “exact cable lengths are determined in advance with the help of technology, which enhances both the efficiency and sustainability of that building,” explains Paul Garner, Director, Product Strategy at DIRTT. 

“Thanks to smart procurement and off-site manufacturing of the cabling, you significantly reduce material waste.”

You also make reconfiguration in the future much simpler, because after the initial install, connected zone boxes are easily accessible throughout the building, he explains. In many cases, “you unplug, you move the wall, you plug into the next closest modular cable — usually about 30 feet apart,” says Garner.

Using a modular, zone network system improves future adaptability

Image Credit: Zooropa Video Production Agency

Davis agrees that as part of a modular system, fiber optic cabling makes commercial spaces easier to update in future. 

“If I'm reconfiguring an office space, I'm not having to disrupt any of that area…I’m not having to re-cable all the way back to one centralized space [in the building]. I just reconfigure and all my power and connectivity is right there in that zone.”

“I’ve just got less to move around,” Davis notes.

Share this article

Copied to clipboard

© DIRTT 2024