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The Growing Web of Fiber Optic Technology in Asia

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011
fiber optics

Albert Einstein wondered about the experience of moving at the speed of light. With fiber optic transmission, we can at least achieve movement of data at the speed of light. Communication is what brings the world closer, making it into one global village. It is what makes us say, quite literally, “It’s a small world after all.” We know what is happening at the other end of the world within minutes. Calamities, atrocities, the fall of governments, achievements, the revealing of previously unexplored territories, and so on are just some of what is now being made available on our desktops, laptops, telephones or television sets.

Behind all this are various technologies which have developed in the past few decades thanks to technological revolutions. Breakthroughs in fiber optical technology, one such innovative field, have helped greatly in this revolutionary ear of communications. Now new fiber amplifiers make direct transmission of high-speed signals possible over transcontinental distances without electronic regeneration.

The fiber optic backbone network (FOBN) deployed in countries across the world serves three types of services – telephone, data and scientific/technical testing. Fiber optics are replacing copper wire for signal transmission as they cover longer distances and form a backbone for network systems serving television broadcasting, university campuses, office buildings, industrial plants and electric utility companies.

Fiber-optic Internet connections are much faster as they employ light-transmitting optical fibers made of glass, whereas cable and asymmetric digital subscribers’ line (ADSL) technology uses copper wiring to transmit signals at a comparatively slower speed. Optical fibers are thin, flexible and transparent and act as waveguides or light pipes to transmit light between the two ends. These fibers are employed in fiber-optic communications for transmitting signals over longer distances and at higher bandwidths. Fibers are preferable over metal wires as signals travel with less loss of strength, and they are not affected by electromagnetic interference. Optic fibers are also used as sensors and fiber lasers.

Such fibers are comprised of a transparent core surrounded by a transparent cladding material with a lower index of refraction. Total internal reflection ensures that the light stays within the fiber or waveguide which is classified as multi-mode fiber (MMF) having a larger core diameter, which is useful for short-distance communication, or single-mode fiber (SMF), used for making communication links longer than 1,000 meters.

Experienced technicians are required to perform fiber optic network architecture and constructions, system design and power budget calculations, as well as building hybrid fiber / UTP network systems. Fiber optics installation encompasses indoor, underground and aerial installations, fusion splicing, termination and cross connection activities. Cable troubleshooting, fault restoration, fiber acceptance testing, optical loss testing and maintenance are other technical jobs associated with fiber optics deployment.

Such deployments are remarkably high in Asian countries, and according to the FTTH Council, South Korea ranks number one with respect to the percentage of residences and buildings connected by optical fiber. Second and third on this list are Japan and China, with these three nations registering a huge overall total of all global optical fiber used.

Other nations are also desirous to implement these latest technologies, with Telekom Malaysia deploying Fiber to-theHome (FTTH) and SingTel keen on increasing deployments in Singapore. Telekom Malaysia will serve Brunei also.

Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan and Hong Kong will soon be catching up to these trends also, while PT Telkom in Indonesia is installing fiber cables in all new housing complexes and apartments. The Philippines also figures in the FTTH scene, with various PLDT and Smart undertaking deployments happening there.

Connecting Continents by Fiber

We think of ships carrying people and goods between continents, but there are also ships which install data cables across oceans. The fiber optic cable across the Pacific Ocean is an undersea information super highway which enables faster data and video delivery with 20 percent more Internet carrying capacity between Asian nations and the U.S.

Google and five other international companies have installed this cable, which will be leveraged by the NASDAQ Exchange to digitally handle stock trades in real time, as even milliseconds of delay can result in significant financial loss. Safe from earthquakes and trawlers and attended to by robot engineers, the undersea cable is helping to make the world an even smaller place.

The SEACOM cable system connects Asia with the rest of the world to the west. This system enables Tata Communications, which is an anchor tenant, to offer integrated network services from South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya to its networks in Europe, Asia and India. Tata Communications Transformation Services Limited (TCTS) takes care of the network administration, operations, and maintenance of the cable, which supports 1.28 Tbps (terabits per second) of capacity.

The landing point in Mumbai is maintained by Tata Communications and on the South African side by Neotel. Seamless connectivity between the SEACOM cable system and the Tata Communications global network is ensured via Neotel’s converged network in South Africa. Increased bandwidth and connectivity has been made possible in this market which had previously relied on expensive satellites.

To make communication even faster, telecommunication carriers in Southeast and North Asia launched a submarine fiber optic cable network in January 2011 that will connect Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Continuing construction of the network is to be carried out by Fujitsu and NEC Corporation in agreement with NTT of Japan, PLDT of the Philippines, StarHub of Singapore and Telekom Malaysia. This new undersea cable network is to be christened the Asia Submarine Cable Express system, or ASE.

NTT Communications (NTT Com) and Hong Kong-based NTT Com Asia, are launching the 40Gbps high speed, high capacity ultra-long haul optical transmission system, using around 7,200 kilometers of cable with a total carrying capacity of more than 15 Tbps. Total construction costs are estimated at approximately US$430 million. Hong Kong will be added to the network in December 2012 via a separate route. Connections to Mainland China and other Southeast Asian countries will be served through other major carriers.

The ASE features 40 Gbps optical technology and can enhance the capacity to meet growing global traffic demands while also offering low network latency and reliability by choosing the shortest possible distances between Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. The ASE will be able to incorporate 100 Gbps optical technology later on. It will also be durable enough to withstand earthquakes and typhoons.

Japan-based NEC will supply a 40G longhaul system for ASE, which will incorporate OADM, or Optical Add-drop Multiplexer, for multiplexing and routing different channels both to and out of the optical fiber. The manufacturing and installation of various components like repeaters, OADM branching units, cable power feeding equipments and submersible plant monitoring systems will be undertaken by NEC. Fujitsu will provide the supply of submarine line terminal equipment and management controlling.

Asia-Pacific Wired

FTTH Councils of Asia Pacific, Europe, and North America revealed in 2007 that the Asia-Pacific region ranked high in FTTH market penetration, with significant figures in homes having broadband communication services over fiber optic networks. Taiwan and China were in this technological race, while Japan and South Korea are poised to launch an advanced digital network. Not far behind is India, a strong contender in FTTx access technology, with plans afoot to invest heavily in fixed access lines using fiber optics. Clearly, there is no looking back for the region, which is gaining prominence in the fiber optic market and in fiber optic test equipment (FOTE) markets.

In view of the recent economic downturn, North America and Europe have shifted their manufacturing hubs to the Asia-Pacific region, along with implementing research and development initiatives in design and manufacture of innovative products and solutions. India and China are facing great demand for fiber optic cables following major sports events and the deployment of highspeed, broadband optical communications networks, as well as the continuing building of an Internet backbone. This has led to recent establishment of manufacturing facilities while also offering opportunities for relevant test and measurement vendors. Applications that are instrumental for Asia-Pacific FOTE market growth are triple play services encompassing broadband Internet access, television, and telephony offered by a single provider.

Fiber optic equipment like optical time domain reflectometers (OTDR) and other FTTH access technology are in great demand in the Asia-Pacific market, which is expected to grow to US$12 billion in 2013, with major markets being Japan, China and India. Australia also started deploying fiber optic technology in a big way in 2007. The Asia-Pacific FOTE market is expanding at a compound annual growth rate of more than 6 percent and is expected to reach US$225 million in revenues by 2013.

FTTH in Singapore

Telecom giants in Singapore have extensive plans to use fiber-optic technology for broadband Internet connection for 10x faster online connectivity that will replace cable connections. According to Alan Young, OpenNet corporate development director, high-end cable Internet may soon become obsolete as fiber-optic broadband technology gains precedence.

Young added, “We have received a record number of inquiries from clients opting to have fiber-optic Internet connection, with OpenNet’s call centers in Singapore having recorded three times the volume of average calls in the first two days of the launch.” Not to be found lagging behind are M1, StarHub, Singapore Telecommunications and newcomer SuperInternet, which unveiled fiber-optic broadband packages in some areas of Singapore.

Since mid-2009 OpenNet has wired about 60 percent of local households, and full operations are slated to start by 2012. OpenNet is a joint venture between Canada’s Axia Netmedia, Singapore Press Holdings, SingTel, and SP Telecom. A huge subsidy from the Singapore governmen enabled OpenNet to deploy fiber connections to homes free of charge as a trial.

Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and South Korea register high broadband penetration when compared to China and India, where more investments are set to flow in the 3G and IPTV sectors. Like everything else, demand for fiber optic products is increasing in telecommunications, defense and aerospace, testing and measurement, bio-medical, automotive, chemical, manufacturing, medicine and other fields in the Asia-Pacific region.

High-capacity optic fiber networks ensure high-definition television (HDTV), fast music downloads, homeland security and broadband Internet protocol television (IPTV) for a burgeoning subscriber base. Considering the optical components market, Ovum a market research agency, has revealed that the Asia-Pacific region is going strong, catering to 48 percent of all global manufacturing activities owing to the numerous contract manufactures in the region. Finisar, Sumitomo and Avago Tech are major suppliers of optical components, ranked in that order, according to Ovum.

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