Lighting Up Smart Cities: Why New Fiber Optic Cable Technologies Will Pave The Way for the Extabyte Experience

Twenty years ago, it didn’t make much sense to carry a mobile device (or two with a flip phone and Blackberry as I did) if you planned to spend time in NYC’s midtown.

Ten years ago, with more investment in 4G networks and the placement of small cells, performance improved, but if your call didn’t drop, you often only caught portions of calls, and never really knew if everybody heard you.

For thirteen years, I worked at JPMorgan Chase’s private equity firm, One Equity Partners, on Park Avenue a few blocks north of Grand Central Station when they were headquartered there, and for the majority of those years, I remember standing closer to certain windows to try and catch a signal, and ultimately reverted to my good old fashioned, reliable desktop phone, asking those who tried to reach me on my cell if I could call them back from “a landline.”

So chronic was this issue, we invested in a company as part of a roll up of telecom technology, infrastructure and software leaders because they were expert in improving in-building coverage and passing stateful sessions from one RAN to another successfully.

Those problems have largely been resolved, but it took investment, innovation and determination to “fill the gaps” in coverage in the city that never sleeps, and all other large cities around the world – but now that we have become social, mobile and consumers of streaming news, movies, music, sports and live interactive gaming, there are massive new challenges to address.

5G is poised to help, as is moving compute closer to the edge – or to the actual edge depending on the application – but 5G is going to need more “juice” as the better the new experiences become – the more ultrabroadband will be needed – and that ultrabroadband is still best delivered using fiber optic networks.

But more of the same fiber won’t solve for powering up exponentially Internet access, won’t solve for the transformation of what we used to call “CO’s” (central offices) to Edge Data Centers, won’t accommodate for disruptive applications in healthcare, including robotic surgery done remotely, and certainly won’t support automated systems including driverless delivery vehicles and eventually driverless private passenger vehicles.

While software is eating the world, software these days will not succeed without super-fast, available and economically feasible ultra-broadband, and innovating better, often smaller, more long-lasting, ruggedized elements including the fiber optic cables, splicers, switches, and more of the “physical” that makes the “digital” run.

The current size, weight and form factors of armored cable are a huge obstacle to upgrading the required infrastructure as pathways are closed, conduits are full and unlike previous fiber builds, the network has to go further out to the edge to reach things like street poles to provide the coverage requirements of 5G. 

The higher frequency associated with 5G provides greater speed but will require a 5X increase in the number of base-stations which will need to be placed in difficult to reach locations mostly outdoors. To get fiber to these locations will require new armored fiber cable that’s much smaller, lighter, flexible and more durable than what’s been available in the past. 

Never has our wireless future been so dependent on our fiber’s current abilities.  The good news is one company called CertiCable has a micro-armored fiber cable they call “TiniFiber”which is 75% smaller, 65% less in weight and is incredibly flexibly so it can bend without breaking the glass and it’s stainless steel armor is impervious to rodents and vermin that plague the cities we need to make smart.   

This is a perfect example of advancing what goes into future  fiber optic networks, with a product that is lighter by a large margin, armored to ensure long life but to also make installation easier, and part of a trend I am coining “Small Is The New Big.”

Never in the industry formerly known (by some) as telecom – which is now virtualized and software defined, driven and controlled – have we needed more collaboration on designing and rolling out any large-scale, distributed digital transformation projects, especially Smart Cities. The truth is, Smart Cities that succeed do so due to the work and investment, both public and private, done systematically and done together. The projects that fail are those which were created in a silo and attempt to live in a silo.

Fiber optic networks in Smart Cities (or smart campuses, airports, stadiums, and more) are a unifying force. Why? Because like any shared network, it is possible to build once (and build big) in anticipation of adding applications, and supporting major shifts including 5G.

One of the most important drivers? The Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which are growing exponentially because the value they create – saving a ton of money, and saving lives through public safety and counter-terrorism solutions – that those who continue to build cannot ignore the logic of pooling assets and ideas to ensure the capacity is there and can be scaled so the innovation can succeed and continue.

Before I headed to midtown in 2001, I was working downtown in the financial district – on “Wall Street” – where I began an exciting career which brought me to all the exchanges, brokerage houses, market data firms, news and information companies, and the largest, fastest investments in Internet and IP associated companies. Having witnessed first-hand the attacks on the World Trade Center, and having lost literally dozens of friends, I am probably more sensitive than others about the threat of terrorism, both physical and digital.

That experience, which was the only one that truly paused my career for a few weeks, has served to inspire me and my team at the time, many of whom I work with to this day. When I see opportunities to improve the city I and so many millions of people, hundreds of millions of tourists love so much, I cannot help but be inspired to light things up, and for me – advancements in fiber optic technologies is a bright path.