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On today’s information highway, perhaps the best conduit to carry data so far has been optical fiber or fiber optic cables. Fiber optics transmit data using light as the carrier through optical fibers that are thinner than a human hair. Over the years, this technology is steadily gaining popularity with its advantages like higher bandwidth, better long-distance communication, lighter weight and higher security compared to metal cables.

Fundamentally, in one fiber pair, half of the world’s population could be talking to the other half simultaneously. Its capacity to transport data at record speed is unmatched by all the other alternatives to wired backhaul.

Fiber-based networks make up the majority of the internet’s backbone. Fiber optic subsea cables running across thousands of miles connect continents, exchanging data at nearly the speed of light. As smarter devices and ubiquitous connectivity become part of our digital fabric, with artificial intelligence and edge computing transforming industries and other day-to-day activities, FO will continue to become an integral part of the digital ecosystem.

From homes to factories and machines to offices and personal desktops, optical fiber connections provide ubiquitous optical connectivity for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and governments, including sectors such as energy, transportation, finance, education, healthcare and manufacturing.

Keeping up with the times, the UAE has one of the highest Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) penetration rates and has maintained its leading position since 2016. It was even ranked number one by the leading industry body, the FTTH Council, in its annual report that showcases the countries with the highest fiber optic network penetration globally. UAE’s fiber network coverage surpassed that of Singapore, China, South Korea and Hong Kong, according to the report. The global top 5 rankings are led by UAE with 97%, followed by Singapore (95.8%), China (94.9%), South Korea (91.1%) and Hong Kong (86.2%).

Where’s the Demand Coming From?

As alluded to earlier, the power of fiber-optic connectivity has come to encompass almost every key sector. For example, in the utility sector, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) recently completed the extension of Fiber Optic (FO) ducts to 3,634 kilometers (unaltered since 2015) to enhance DEWA’s infrastructure of FO and its smart grid in line with the future needs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In collaboration with Huawei, DEWA’s FO network supports the InfraX Network Operations Center to provide innovative digital services, including Digital DEWA’s data center and cloud-computing value-added services. Other sectors have followed suit and have already established detailed FO implementation plans.

Motivated by such demand in FO, UAE operator Etisalat UAE, branded as etisalat by e&, in collaboration with leading ICT vendor Huawei, recently completed the trial of 1.2 Tbps/channel that is set to drastically slash the cost per bit of telecommunications networks. During the trial run, the single-fiber transmission touched an overall capacity of up to 96 Tbps. etisalat by e& will leverage the 1.2T bps/channel technology to address the growing demand for capacity as a result of the shift towards online digital behaviors, cloud-based business services, enhanced home broadband and 5G services. It uses the dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) optical fiber multiplexing technology that increases the bandwidth of existing fiber networks.

"The successful trial of 1.2 Tbps/channel with Huawei is a result of our continuous efforts to deliver enhanced customer experiences by pushing the boundaries of what is possible as a digital telco. This has resulted in etisalat by e& taking the lead in building one of the most advanced networks globally and using industry-leading technology to deliver superior network services to our customers across UAE,” says Marwan Bin Shakar, senior vice president, access network development at etisalat by e&.

Ubiquitous Connectivity

Moreover, the combination of Cloud technology and the mobile internet has offered mobile users the luxury of streaming music, films and online games from their rooms to their cars. Fiber will be crucial for features such as immersive gaming, in-vehicle experiences, digital payments etc. Furthermore, the next-gen 5G technology is set to introduce many more new use cases that will depend on the massive transport capacity that only fiber connectivity can provide.

Some Recent Developments in Fiber in MENA:

The Bahrain Network (BNET) bagged the 2022 Telecom Review Excellence Award for “Best Middle Eastern Fiber Infrastructure Deployment” for its ambitious fiber infrastructure projects. As part of

Bahrain’s 5th National Telecommunication Plan (NTP5), BNET is instrumental in rolling out a fiber optic network to 100% of all businesses and 95% of all households across the Kingdom of Bahrain. With such implementation, Bahrain is poised to accelerate the growth and economic diversification of its telecommunications sector.

In November, the RIPE Network Coordination Center (RIPE NCC) — the regional Internet registry for Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia — and the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority of the United Arab Emirates (TDRA) hosted the sixth government roundtable for Arab ICT ministers and heads of regulatory authorities. High-level government delegations from the UAE, Oman, Yemen, Lebanon, Qatar, Iraq and the League of Arab States extensively discussed the challenges facing digital infrastructures in the Arab countries. The roundtable discussed ways to increase the connectivity and security of the Internet, such as continuing the deployment of IPv6 to meet the massive demand for connectivity, employing Resource Public Key Infrastructure (RPKI) to ensure the safety of networks and building IXPs to enhance peering, lower operational costs and reduce reliance on external networks. These developments will only increase the demand for fiber connectivity in the region.

Given the rapid development of the global digital economy and the need for computing power at scale, ICT product manufacturers such as ZTE, Huawei, Nokia among others are developing and deploying server and storage products in over 40 countries and regions around the world. Such trends will see the data transport requirement reaching new levels in sectors such as communications, Internet, finance, power, government and transportation, among others.

Preparing Fiber Power

Despite the potential of fiber optics’ capacity for faster connectivity, some ever-present challenges in the cable deployment process could easily offset the expected network performance. Here are some considerations worth paying attention to:

Ensuring Adequate Length of Cables

Each facility has different area dimensions, and the exact measurement of the required cable is crucial. Experts suggest ordering extra lengths to ensure enough slack (as opposed to a tightrope) in end-to-end connection. Correct measurement of the cables will not only prove cost-effective but will also ensure a hassle-free installation process.

Using a Port Map

While installing cables, a detailed port map acts as an inventory sheet and installation guideline. The map will specify port connections and the location of network cabinets, patch panels and other hardware for quick reference and efficiency, resulting in a faster installation process.

Picking the Correct Specification

Determining the cable’s tensile and pull load ratings is crucial, as the tensile rating will help estimate the required tension on the cable and prevent the breakage of fiber. Similarly, by monitoring the pull load rating, the cables can be protected while being pulled around the installation premises with cable pullers and conduits. As fiber optics are normally made of glass or plastic, they can be fragile and vulnerable to disruptions.

Reducing Distance and Pull Lengths

Fiber optic cables can be used in short-, medium- and long-range scenarios. However, experts suggest shortening the distance whenever possible for better network performance — the shorter the cable distance, the faster the signal and information transfers. Also, a shorter cable reduces the pull length, minimizing the chances of breaking the cable.

Quality Matters

Finally, there are different types of fiber optic cables on the market today; however, network performance will greatly depend on the quality of the cables. Hence, while investing in fiber, organizations need to think about the long-term benefits and not choose inferior products that could prove costly in the long run.

Until now, fiber optic technology has had no equal alternative for data transport efficiency. However, like all network technology, fiber optic processes are evolving. Still, the best practices for fiber optic cable installation remain constant. Despite being the leading technology that it is today, the power of fiber is only as good as how well its installation is managed. Proper fiber installation management will go a long way in ensuring that the investment is worth every penny.

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