Manufacturers of small-form fiber-optic connectors are competing to make their products the de facto standard for fiber-optic networks. One of these designs, the MT-RJ connector system, gained a dramatic increase in support with a recent announcement by the MT-RJ Alliance at the Fall Net-world+Interop exposition that more than 30 companies now support this initiative.

Nine new vendors are now supporting the use of the MT-RJ system into network equipment, such as high-speed Ethernet switches and media converter products. They are 3Com Corp., Allied Telesyn International, Canary Communications Inc., EtherCom Inc., Foundry Networks, Garrett Communications Inc., HP ProCurve Networks division (formerly HP Workgroup Networks Division of Hewlett-Packard Co.), Transition Networks Inc., and Xylan Corp.

These companies join the ranks of five other vendors that previously adopted the MT-RJ system: Cabletron Systems, Cisco Systems Inc., Extreme Networks, Nortel Networks (recently merged company of Nortel and Bay Networks) and XLNT Inc.

In addition to AMP Inc., Siecor Corp. and USConec Ltd., nine companies have obtained licenses to manufacture MT-RJ components, such as connectors, connecting hardware and accessories and optical transceivers.

These include: Computer Crafts Inc., FONS (Fiber Optic Network Solutions) Corp., Furukawa Electric Company Ltd., Fiber Connections Inc., Krone AG, Molex Fiber Optics Inc., Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd., Superior Modular Products and Senko Advanced Components. Alliance founders AMP, HP, Siecor, Fujikura and USConec noted many products supporting the MT-RJ system displayed at the N+I show.

The RJ-45 connector "I believe that the emerging MT-RJ technology in connectors, transceivers, and network switches will enable a lower price point of fiber technology so as to fundamentally tip the balance away from copper as the de facto standard for horizontal wiring," said Richard Kogut, chief information technology architect, Georgetown University.

"We are actively pursuing fiber-to-the-desktop solutions using the MT-RJ for our 35 main campus buildings comprising over 10,000 drops." The MT-RJ connector simplifies installation by eliminating polishing and epoxy during termination. It uses the same familiar press-to-release mechanism found on RJ-45 modular plugs of copper-based systems. The appeal of the MT-RJ system transceivers for makers of equipment such as network hubs, switches and routers is their size-less than half that of previous duplex-SC and ST type transceivers. This means network-equipment makers can increase the port densities of the fiber optics and lower the overall system cost to the end user.

Spacing of the fiber optic MT-RJ ports is the same as RJ-45 UTP copper connections, enabling the same size chassis and port densities to support both fiber and copper cabling. Meanwhile, Siemens Microelectronics Inc. (SMI), Cupertino, Calif., announced it has joined the VF-45 Action Group, an independent industry alliance of electronics manufacturers and networking hardware vendors promoting use of the VF-45 optical fiber connector product by the 3M Co. The VF-45 Action Group will support the VF-45 connector for premises networks, in standards organizations, industry forums, and product design and development. It also wants to speed deployment of this technology in electronics, chips and passive components.

"Siemens is committed to supporting the VF-45 footprint and the Volition cabling system," said Jerry Sheridan, business development with the fiber-optics business unit at SMI's Cuptertino, Calif., facility.

The VF-45 footprint "We believe the VF-45 provides the simplest, most cost-effective system available for carrying fiber through the backbone to the desktop, and our objective is to make it the interconnect of choice," he said.

Using V-groove fiber alignment techniques, the VF-45 interface is an openly licensed duplex interconnect, and it is claimed to be more economical than conventional and other small fiber-based form factor interconnects. Manufacturers are designing and delivering transceivers for both 1300 nm and 850 nm wavelengths with the VF-45 interface. These transceivers are now available in 1 by 5, 1 by 9, 2 by 4, Simplex and quad-pack configurations.

In addition, transceiver manufacturers also intend to bring the VF-45 interface into the industry's Small Form Factor Multi-Source Agreement, which specifies a common footprint for high-density fiber solutions regardless of interface.

The VF-45 Action Group claims its VF-45 connector has more end-user installations than any other next-generation, small-form-factor-based system on the market. Components have been installed or ordered for more than 40,000 data lines worldwide since the commercialization of the VF-45 by 3M as part of its Volition cabling system several months ago.

The current excitement surrounding the new generation of connectors began in 1996 in a TIA FO-6.3.4 meeting. Panduit Corp.'s Fiber-Jack (FJ)introduced a connector that was approved as FOCIS 6. This approval sparked a flu rry of activity from other manufacturers to bring their ideas for new connector styles and design to the FO standards bodies. Seven new connector designs, currently under consideration by the subcommittee have a few things in common. They are targeted for the premises/residential market (at least initially). They all have at least duplex (2-fiber) capability. And, they generally fit into an RJ-45 type 8-pin modular jack template.