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A (fiber) deep dive into DIRTT optical network solutions

Do you remember the last time you couldn’t get on the internet? You probably rolled your eyes and sighed about having to wait. Even those of us old enough to remember the days of dial-up modems have gotten used to lightning-fast networks. Especially in the workplace. When you have teams of people working away online, sharing documents and processing orders, your network capability is crucial.


At its most basic, a network is two or more computers linked together in order to share resources. But most workplaces aren’t basic. In many cases, dozens of people are logged on for work. How you choose to connect those people is important. We’ve all seen those blue network cables running through the office without thinking twice. Well it’s time to give those silent workhorses of the workplace a second thought, because they have a big impact on how you do business.

Connecting with copper cable Connecting with copper cable

Kicking it old school

Those blue cables have copper on the inside. They do the job, no question. But they have limitations. The first one is bandwidth.

Basically, it’s how much data can run through that wire at a given time. And how fast can it make that trip. With copper cable, it depends on what kind of wire you use. There are limits. Right now, a commonly used cable known as CAT 6A has a capacity of 500 MHz. This means they can deliver 10 billion bits of data per second (Gbps). That sounds like a lot, but once you start getting large groups of employees working with a lot of information, that limitation shows.

Cable trays to hold the weight Cable trays to hold the weight

The other thing about copper, is that it can only go so far. Heavy bundles of cables run through the building on cable trays to support their weight.  And each cable has a maximum distance. It’s 100 meters or 328 feet. That means nobody can be too far from the data closet. And if you have people working on multiple floors, you need multiple distribution rooms. That requires more space dedicated to those rooms. And more energy to cool them down. Have you ever been in one of these places? They throw a bunch of heat. And heat and electronics aren’t a great mix.

Copper cable network Copper cable network

Sometimes this isn’t a huge concern. If you’re working in a small space with a small team, DIRTT can install copper wire and it will serve you fine. But for large teams in large buildings, DIRTT has other options.  Maybe a fiber deep solution is the best answer.

What is fiber deep?

Fiber deep is a network that uses optical fiber instead of copper. It’s actually made of glass barely thicker than a human hair that transmits light from one end to the other. Usually fiber-mode cabling ends when it enters building. This solution allows fiber to continue deep inside, almost to the user. See what they did there?

The great thing about optical fiber is that it is less prone to signal loss and electrical interference than copper cable. This translates to considerably less infrastructure to get up and running. Fiber optic cable also supports a much higher bandwidth than copper. And it can go a greater distance. While copper is limited to 328 feet, fiber deep solutions can go 65,617 feet at a time. That’s 12 miles. About 200 times further. That means that if your team is working on multiple floors of the same building, you only need a single data cabling closet. That means less space devoted to your network infrastructure and more space that can be used by employees

Fiber deep network Fiber deep network

Fiber deep cabling is also more efficient at transferring data. A single fiber optic cable can do the job of 128 copper cables. That means you don’t need cable trays to deploy. It can serve more, with less. It’s easier to install. It can handle multiple technologies like voice, video, network and security using the same infrastructure. And while copper cable has limited bandwidth, fiber has a road map for future proofing that can provide 10 Gbps, 40 Gbps, 100 Gbps and beyond. That’s a lot of data.

Fiber optic (left) compared to copper cable (right) Fiber optic (left) compared to copper cable (right)

A tale of two networks

When it comes to fiber deep solutions, DIRTT works with two options. There’s a passive optical network (PON) or active Ethernet (Active E). They work differently so they both have different applications.

Passive optical network

Because PON is a passive optical network, it doesn’t need as much cooling. Let’s hear it for less maintenance. PON uses optical splitters to distribute data to users. Using mirrors and glass, it refracts the light, splitting the signal multiple times so you can send it where you need it. Typically, 32 users can work from the same PON line.

When it comes to bandwidth, you’re only limited by your hardware. What does that mean? Well, right now, we haven’t hit the limit on the transfer capability of fiber optic cable. The limits come from the hardware the cable is attached to. Data cruises through the fiber and then slows down when it hits your router or your computer. The good news is that when science builds a better version of that hardware, you can swap it out and get a faster network. To get better performance with copper cable, you’d have to replace every wire in your office. And nobody wants to do that.

If you want to take a closer look at how PON works and how it connects to your computer, check out this handy info graphic.

Active Ethernet

Active Ethernet offers many of the same benefits of PON. So, let’s look at how they differ. Part of it is right there in the name. Active versus passive. That changes how you use it. Active Ethernet uses electrically powered switches and takes a direct line right to the user. That makes it a great choice for groups that need dedicated and guaranteed bandwidth for every team member. It’s an ideal option for media companies with HD video or game developers with intensive graphics. The banking world has higher demand for data these days so Active E is a good choice. And if you’re a designer sharing massive files, dedicated bandwidth is a great asset.

What is the best option for you?

So how do you choose between copper cable, PON and active Ethernet? DIRTT works with all three so we have insight into what will work best for you. It’s heavily dependent on what kind of space you have. How big is it? What kind of work are you doing? How many ports do you need?

Fiber deep is a great solution, but people with small spaces and smaller teams don’t get to take advantage of the benefits. In those cases, copper cable will do the trick. For those with larger spaces, specifically with teams spread out over multiple floors of the same building, fiber deep can help you maximize your network capability. Because PON splits the signal for multiple users, it works well for teams with lower bandwidth needs. Those that that need dedicated high bandwidth would get the most out of an active Ethernet solution.

No matter what solution works best for you, DIRTT can install it fast. We’re also great at downloading information. We’re like fiber deep that way. From consultation to pre-design, our power and network team can answer any questions you have. Our factory creates pre-terminated cable to give you a quick install to get you up and running. And because our solutions are modular, you’re ready for future growth. When it comes to network solutions, we’re your one-stop shop.

Power and networks go hand in hand, so check out our deep dive on DIRTT power solutions.


DIRTT is a building process powered by technology. We use our proprietary 3D software to help design, manufacture, and install fully customized interior environments. This same software provides clients with certainty around cost, schedule, and the final outcome. With modular components and a streamlined construction process, complete interior spaces are constructed faster, cleaner, and more sustainably. The Company works with over 70 partners throughout North America. DIRTT trades on Nasdaq under the symbol “DRTT” and on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol “DRT”.