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Al Lyons on Using Passive Optical Network Technology to Design Smarter Buildings

allyons-150New network technologies enable designers to create buildings that support communications requirements with less space, power, cooling and infrastructure. Passive optical networks (PONs) use fiber optic cables that transmit signals more effectively than traditional copper cable-based networks.

For the past several years, PON technology has been used to deliver phone, data and television services into homes. Today, PON equipment is being repackaged into devices appropriate for installation in many building types. Integrating PONs into a building design can generate significant first-cost and long-term operational savings.


A PON is more flexible, efficient and effective than conventional Ethernet-based networking technologies for several reasons:

  • The maximum cable length between an end user outlet and active network electronics is 20 kilometers (6 miles). That’s 200 times as long as the 100-meter (328-foot) limitation of a conventional Ethernet system. Using a PON greatly reduces cable quantities and size requirements and could eliminate the need for several communications closets.
  • With a PON, distribution from the main communications room to outlets is based on passive optical splitters that require no power or cooling. Because conventional active Ethernet equipment requires both power and cooling, PON technology can cut energy use by up to 60 percent.
  • One strand of single mode fiber can support more than 100 communications jacks in 32 locations. A conventional Ethernet system would require more than 100 Category 6A cables, which means PONs can reduce the size of cable pathways by up to 90 percent.
  • The availability of a PON is 99.999 percent, resulting in about 5.39 minutes per year of downtime. A design that incorporates redundancy can improve on this.
  • The bandwidth of unshielded twisted pair (UTP) copper cables used to deliver conventional Ethernet is limited. With a PON, the bandwidth is limited only by the electronics attached to the ends of the cable. When bandwidth demand surges, network capacity can be increased by changing the end devices. This is easier and more affordable than switching the cabling.

To learn more about incorporating PON technology in your building project, contact HOK Information Technology and Communication (ITC) Engineering Director Al Lyons at al.lyons@hok.com or 212.981.7396.