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Making the Switch: Converting a Copper Network to Fiber in Six Steps – Part 2

To have a successful transition from a copper cable network to a fiber network requires that hoteliers do their homework. To help in that respect, HT interviewed hoteliers, associations and vendors to create a series of steps that will help guide hoteliers the decision making process. In part two of this two-part series, HT will discuss the second three steps in this six-step roadmap. To read the first half of this roadmap which discusses steps 1-3, please click here.
Step 4: Factor in the possible benefits.
One benefit to upgrading to a fiber optic network is the high speed and bandwidth capabilities it offers.
"Because my hotel is located in downtown Durham, N.C., with companies such as Cisco Systems, IBM and NetApp located nearby, my goal was to provide connectivity at a level that far surpassed what people experience at a typical hotel," says Craig Spitzer, general manager at The Durham Hotel in North Carolina. "By giving our guests the ability to upload and download files at the same speeds they're accustomed to at their tech-savvy companies, we enable them to do their work seamlessly, without struggling."
After installing fiber optic cables, the Durham Hotel is now able to offer its guests a 100 megabit connection. However, it has the infrastructure available to support upgrading to a gigabyte connection in coming years when it becomes necessary.
"Internet is always a headache for guests," Spitzer adds. "It never functions the way the guest wants, so my goal was to do my best to avoid any internet issues because it is one of the most important amenities hotels can offer their guests."
According to Jim Hayes, president of the Fiber Optic Association, offering hotel guests "gigabit" internet service is like offering them the "holy grail" of internet. And for hotels looking to the future, fiber is already able to provide 10 gigabit connections.
"Fiber has so much bandwidth that all a hotel needs to do is swap out the electronics," Hayes notes. "A hotel could easily move from 1 gigabit to 100 gigabits to 1000 gigabits (a Terabyte per second)" without having to install new fiber cabling.
Another added benefit is that fiber systems can be much more secure.
"The data to every user in one of these GPON systems is encrypted with 128 bit encryption," Hayes adds. "Even if you could figure out how to tap fiber – and that's not something the average person can do – you'd be stuck with 128 bit encryption and need a super computer to decode it."
And fiber could help hotels that are low on space.
"To get to the newest standards and speeds, the copper cable has to be very thick," says David Thomson, CIO, Pineapple Hospitality Group. "In some cases you just don't have that much room to run such a thick cable."
Fiber on the other hand is two to three millimeters in diameter, Hayes says.
"Its orders of magnitude easier than installing copper cable or coaxe for television or twisted pair wires for computers and phones," Hayes adds. "In a retrofit, all you have to do is find room for a cable that is smaller than a lamp cord."
This was one reason why Thomson decided to go with fiber during his hotel's renovation. When the Alise Hotel in San Francisco decided to add a high speed elevator within its existing 120-year-old building it found that the best available space for the elevator was the wiring shaft that brought the wires up to the guestrooms. With the technology closet eliminated, Thomson realized that the hotel didn't have a lot of room to install wiring, and it didn't want to rip up all of the floors and ceilings throughout the historic building. With fiber cabling, it was able to implement a network design so that the fiber optic cabling could be installed within a compact pathway that spans from the bottom floor all the way to the roof and then directly to each guest room. Because the FiberLAN footprint is small, all the network equipment is housed in one technology closet in the basement. With the new infrastructure, the hotel eliminated additional technology closets on each floor and is now able to use the space for storage and linen closets.
Fiber could even give back to hotels a significant amount of rentable living space.
"Instead of needing large or multi-board switches in several IT rooms throughout the hotel, a fiber optic network can have its core connectivity access points placed in small cabinets in rooms that serve other purposes or even in the guest room," says Patrick Dunphy, CIO, Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG). "Theoretically, the hotel could regain enough space to be able to create/sell additional hotel rooms because it's not using that space for IT or telecom closets."
Step 5: Select a reputable vendor.
When selecting a vendor, Michel Ducamp, COO, Adelphi Hospitality Group, recommends that the hotelier partner with a reliable and reputable consultant, especially since some smaller hotels or hotel chains don't have the needed corporate support that other larger hotel chains might. And he particularly recommends that hoteliers work with consultants who have worked with other hotels to install fiber.
"Often I see parent companies bring in consultants that have done work for them that is real estate or commercial base, but working on a hotel is unique," Ducamp adds.
Spitzer found this to be the case for his hotel project.
"I had a great local telecom vendor that held my hand through the process and made sure we thought of everything and had everything available to us," Spitzer said. "A trusted expert in the area can walk you through the process and work with you. I'm a small independent, so I don't have the benefit of a CTO who has a strong fiber installation knowledge base."
To help hoteliers as they look for a reputable vendor and into installing fiber, HTNG put together a guide called the "Fiber to the Room Design Guide," Dunphy says. It was put together by a group of volunteers to offer hoteliers some best practices and advice when it came to installing fiber optics. The guide is available on the HTNG website as is a bandwidth calculator to help hoteliers decide on the specifics of the type of fiber they need.
While fiber is not "rocket science," installing it does require some unique training and skill, Hayes says. Therefore, hotels would do well to make sure they partner with a company that knows how to properly install the fiber cables without harming it, to terminate the ends and to test it. The Fiber Optic Association has been working with the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) for 20 years along with other groups, such as the Communication Workers of America – the union for ATT&T and Verizon – to teach their students about fiber installation using the FOA's curriculum. To prevent as many installation problems as possible, hotels should work only with certified contractors to make sure the people who are doing the work know what they're doing and are professionals.
Mark Haley, managing partner, The Prism Partnership, agrees that working with a certified contractor is very important. He recommends learning if the designer of the cable plant has RCDD (Registered Communications Distribution Designer) certification from the BICSI (Building Industry Council Standards Initiative).
"It's an arduous and expensive certification to earn and maintain," Haley says. "If your cable plant has RCDD certification, you can be very confident that they are current with state of the art training and have directly relevant experience."
Hotels based in the United States, might want to consider partnering with a vendor that is also U.S.-based. For Thomson, this ensured that it was easy to get replacement parts and to communicate questions and concerns.
"There is a lot of inexpensive equipment coming out of Asia, but I was concerned about what this would mean for us in terms of call center support," Thomson noted.
Step 6: Monitor and measure performance.
One of the great things about fiber is that hoteliers really only have to test it after installation, Hayes says. After that, it should be "locked up" so that no one, including staff, can "mess with it."
"It requires no maintenance and untrained people often cause problems," he adds.
Dunphy agrees.
"No maintenance is required more than a traditional network," he says. "In fact, it's less maintenance from a physical standpoint because it's less likely that individual cables will need to be replaced over a given period of time. However, it does need to be monitored continuously."
It's been about a year since Thomson's hotel installed fiber and he says that so far it's been basically trouble free.
"We've rebooted some devices that had breakers go out and didn't sync back up," he notes. "But that's normal for networking equipment in general. And that usually happens after a power failure. Of course, there could be some maintenance required during a major power outage if the battery backups run out of juice."
The world of hospitality is changing. It is becoming much more digital – from back office systems to guest room technology. On top of that, technology itself is constantly evolving at faster and faster rates. In the past, copper was a sufficient solution for hotel guest technology needs, and it might still be a sufficient solution for some hotels. But with fiber, hoteliers will be able to supply the same amount and even more connectivity with greater manageability and much less infrastructure, Haley says. As technology changes, hoteliers might have to change the network termination devices at the end of the fiber but they won't have to change installed fiber cabling for the lifetime of the hotel.
"Installing fiber is tantamount to future proofing your hotel," he adds.
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