Will this be the year fiber comes to prime time? Although I rarely find myself torn on telecommunications issues, I have split opinions on this subject. On one hand, I believe fiber is simply inevitable; nothing can match its bandwidth, security, and cost per bit efficiency. On the other hand, we've been saying "fiber is the future" for a long time. Yet almost the entire networking universe plods along with copper, seemingly indifferent to the fact that fiber even exists. Could this be the year for fiber? Maybe or maybe not. Let's look at some of the reasons why the answer might be yes.

Copper trauma. As you know, there's plenty of trouble with Cat. 6 cabling. People are also trying to run Gigabit Ethernet over the new Cat. 5 with mixed results. Network administrators will inevitably get tired of replacing their copper cabling every few years.

More new ads. Fiber manufacturers might finally go after the premises market (premises market signifies inside networking).

Lots of discussion of bandwidth. The networking publications have been running a lot of articles about the rise of bandwidth capability. However, what we could really use is a "killer app" for high-bandwidth; something everyone has to have, but that you can only get with a fiber optic system.

DotCom investments in R&D. There is an astounding amount of money being thrown into ".com" companies. I believe many of them are spending significant amounts of money on research and development (R&D). If so, there will be a lot of new products and services coming online, which are almost certain to require more bandwidth.

Other factors. Several developments partially affect the premises market, like the fact that satellites, cable modems, and private fiber services are leapfrogging the "last mile" bottleneck. The cross-country fiber companies are also going crazy laying new lines.

Despite these recent developments, this might not be the year for fiber if you consider the following realities: Lack of understanding.

Many still maintain fiber is too expensive. It isn't (see FTTD article in December 1999 issue). Also "everyone knows how to put copper in," so it's more practical than this new stuff. Not so.

Inertia. People have been using copper for the last 20 years in networking, and they'll keep on using it for this reason alone.

Although fiber may not come all the way to prime time this year, it may begin its approach. When we look back 10 years from now, we'll probably say fiber started to make real inroads in 1999 and 2000, and took over the market in 2002 or 2003. But then again, maybe not.