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Cost-cutting coatings for fibre PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Brunnen (reporting from Munich)   
Tuesday, 21 February 2012 14:41

Future proofing is the big claim for those who believe that all local access networks should renounce copper and switch to fibre optics.  In many ways the claim is credible – virtually unlimited bandwidth, extraordinary reliability, almost zero maintenance, and a product cheaply made of glass with a projected lifetime well north of 25 years.

However, as network operators are fast discovering, the credibility of all these claims is dependent on deploying high quality fibre.  But glass is glass and with a flood of Chinese products the danger for network procurement managers is to not understand the subtle but vital differences between products.

Rob CrowellAccording to Rob Crowell, Senior Business Director Functional Materials, DSM, “Telecom operators must adapt to this shift [toward fibre networks] not just by building networks capable of supporting demand today, but future proofing them for tomorrow, because with so much at stake, failure in the field will not be tolerated.”

Imagine if all that fibre investment, the hopes and user expectations it carried, turned to dust?

It’s common to provide a simple coating for UV protection but the complex chemistry of modern coating technology can now do so much more.

It's a matter of microns

Coatings are applied at the moment of fibre manufacture and usually comprise a primary and a secondary layer – together less than 60 microns thick. The purpose is not just to add strength to an inherently fragile product but also to enhance its capacity and make it easier to incorporate tighter bends – even in extremely cold or hot environments.

The coating process itself demands very tight application tolerance as fibre production is happening at speeds up to 2100 metres/minute. These two coatings have to be instantly dry and perfectly consistent.

It is not surprising that the leading suppliers of the coatings are themselves immersed in the development of fibre manufacturing in order to understand the design challenges and complex chemistry but their customers must take on for themselves the actual process of coating, integrating and testing it with their production.

This gives rise to an interesting dilemma – the coating supplier’s fortunes are dependent on their customer’s customers appreciating the value of a quality product. That is why, although they may have only a handful of major customers for coatings, companies like DSM must devote considerable effort to educate the network operators further up the chain.

The value of a quality coating lies not only in the physical and optical protection or the improved flexibility of the fibre but in increasing its capacity. This in turn can lead to ever-thinner fibres. From this it’s a small step to understanding the investment implications – less duct space, easier deployment and, eventually, greater bandwidth and reliability for the customers at the end of line.


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Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 February 2012 13:08

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