FutureFlex tubes for fiber optics

Agencies increasingly are outfitting new buildings with fiber-optic cables — rather than coaxial or Ethernet cable — to carry data and voice traffic. But the way such buildings are glassed up could tax the sanity of information technology managers in the decades to come. One answer? Tubes of tubes.

Typically, bundles of fiber-optic cable are laid under the floor, along building columns or above the ceiling, many times within a large pipe. It's a problematic approach, though: Pushing all the fiber down a single conduit quickly fills up that pipe. Anticipating this headache, some agencies have even taken the expensive step of outfitting new buildings with dark fiber, or fiber that has no use now but could prove handy down the road.

One company, Sumitomo Electric, has another possible solution, called FutureFlex: A pipe that contains 19 smaller pipes, one for each fiber bundle. By giving each bundle of fiber its own conduit, it can be slipped in, or pulled from the infrastructure with relative ease. Instead of guessing how much fiber they need 10 years from now, agencies "can only invest in only the glass they need today. By having additional tubes, they can blow in additional fibers or different fibers with no disruption," said Mike Martin, Sumitomo national sales manager, at the FOSE tradeshow last month. By investing in this pipe, agencies won't have to lay dark fiber, and it can save as much as 90 percent of the cost of trying to snake a cable through a stuffed conduit. They can also fit more cable in a given space.

The conduit could future-proof the agency from whimsies of the industry. Currently, networking equipment vendors such as Cisco Systems are switching their equipment connections from 62.5 multimode fiber to multimode fiber 50 microns wide. Replacing that 62.5 fiber in unorganized conduits will be a nightmare, but the job would be easy with the FutureFlex conduit, Martin said.

The only downside we see is that you have to buy the Sumitomo fiber bundles, instead of generic fiber strands. But Sumitomo, one of the major providers of glass, offers all major grades of fiber. And it is the first company to offer 24 fibers per bundle, besting the 18 fiber bundle that has been the norm. FutureFlex piping is already used by the Defense Department, Defense Information Systems Agency, White House, Defense Intelligence Agency, Homeland Security Department, National Library of Medicine and others.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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