Fiber to the School Desk

Today's youth has become the video generation. The Internet has replaced the encyclopedia. E-mail has replaced writing letters or making phone calls. And local TV programming has been overshadowed by broadband broadcasting. To keep up with this generation, many schools have enrolled in interactive programs, video-on-demand and distance learning. But to run these high-bandwidth intensive programs, many schools are finding that their installed cabling systems are not adequate and need to be replaced.

"We feel challenged because we are ahead of the curve," says Toby Lytle, RCDD (registered communications distribution designer) and network consultant for T.S. Lytle Inc. Lytle is referring to the advanced cabling infrastructure that is being installed in the Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas. The school is now on the leading edge because of a sophisticated cabling infrastructure from Ortronics Inc., a cabling systems manufacturer. The infrastructure allows fiber optic connectivity to the desk in every classroom, high-speed Internet access, Cisco IP/TV, distance learning and an enhanced video broadcast system.

"Within five years we choked our old network, which was running 10 shared megabits across the network. We may be running 100 switched megabits today, but applications for tomorrow are already at gigabit and probably terabit speeds. We want to make sure that we have an infrastructure in place to handle the rapidly evolving technology and applications," says James Banks, director of technology for the Barbers Hill Independent School District. "Budgets for schools are a very critical issue. When we reviewed products that could efficiently address our myriad of applications in a timely and cost-effective manner, we looked to our network consultants to provide us with the right mix of resources," he says.

They selected OptiMo, a complete fiber optic system from Ortronics, which includes an all fiber backbone with fiber to the classrooms, fiber to each video monitor and fiber access to their mobile lab of laptops. They also installed coax for video and the PA systems with dark fiber for future applications and Category 5e cabling for voice. OptiMo is a high-capacity, high-performance fiber optic structured cabling system featuring the broadest selection of interconnect options available. This end-to-end optical solution includes FiberMo cable management racks, ORMMAC fiber distribution cabinets, and Series II workstation outlets with MTRJ and mini-mod fiber modules with plug-and-play capabilities.

The classroom TVs will be connected to the teacher station via a VGA cable, and images projected on the classroom TV will come through the Cisco IP/TV server. Instead of the typical PA systems, they installed a new messaging system consisting of coax for video so that rolling messages can be displayed on 36" TVs, which are connected to the head-end device via coax cable.

Fiber Makes the Grade

In planning for the introduction of technology into the new Barbers Hill High School, two issues needed to be addressed. The first centers on the network architecture, or infrastructure, that would be deployed throughout the school. The second was the amount of bandwidth that would be needed to support the technologies. "Two years ago we had no cabling infrastructure. The construction of the new high school prompted us to look at all cabling infrastructures and options," says Banks. "We wanted to build a school using fiber optic technology and be a model, but at a reasonable cost."

"When we originally planned the infrastructure, we started with a fiber backbone between the buildings and closets, and then Category 5e copper cabling to the desk," says Lytle. The driving forces behind installing a total fiber-based infrastructure included several factors: distance learning, utilization of split-screen technology within all the classrooms, network-based campus announcement systems and the use of the Internet. "We realized that Ethernet has limitations, and we would run into those limitations when trying to run sophisticated programs over copper. With fiber, in theory, you have no bandwidth or speed limitation," says Lytle.

Hall Monitors and Class Hook-Ups

"One of the most interfering factors in our daily life at school is the PA system which disrupts classroom time," says Banks. "With the new network-based system, our announcements will be quietly scrolled on 36" television monitors in the hallways and in the classrooms. Teachers can also put their own messages on the monitors in their individual classrooms," he says.

A new system, IP/TV, in PC-TV transmission, will allow for dual transmission through PC utilization and TV broadcasting. Ortronics provided Series II dual insert RCA jacks for the in-classroom video hook-up. "Through the infrastructure and installed software, IP/TV allows you to push video over the network server to watch video. The software on the desktop allows you to access the video to transmit it to the TV in the classroom," says David Patterson, who handled the electronics and software for the site. A dual video card will be installed on the teachers' PC to allow multiple applications on dual monitors (the PC screen and an in-room VGA TV). Through the video card and IP/TV the teacher can have access to movies on the library server, where copies of the videos will be cached, allowing numerous teachers to access the same movie at various times and play them during the day.

Another change will be increased computer access. In addition to four instructional and three resource computer labs, there will be three computer units per classroom - one for the teacher and two for the students. Each classroom is wired to the desk with Ortronics Series II workstation outlets with MTRJ 45-degree modules for mixed media of phone and data. With the Series II faceplate, each classroom outlet allows for six ports - two fiber connections, two blank fiber modules for future applications and two for the phone. "We were looking at standard ST and SC connectors in the classroom, but we realized that the ST would require a push-and-turn procedure. But we knew that these could easily be broken by the students," says Banks. The Ortronics Series II MTRJ solved that problem, as it is a simple push-and-pull installation of the connector. Its angled port also helps avoid breakage.

The school will continue to utilize their mobile computer labs. Previously, the school's computer lab was a mobile unit that housed laptops. This was useful in determining who was using the laptops and was also a good indication that they needed more computers. The laptops are hooked up to a wireless switch that is attached to the network. All laptops can be hooked up to the hub-teacher station, which takes 30 seconds to attach. Each laptop has a wireless NIC (network interface card). And when classrooms need multiple computers, they can easily be hooked up through the fiber switch.

A Quality Infrastructure

"We selected a team of vendors who could not only provide us with cost-effective solutions, but could work in our time frame," says Lytle. More than 30 miles of fiber were installed, both multimode and singlemode. From the MDF to the four IDF closets, 12 strands of multimode and six strands of singlemode were installed. The fiber optic cable was terminated into the Ortronics ORMMAC fiber distribution boxes in the Ortronics FiberMo cable management racks in closets. In addition, fiber to the school's remote buildings was housed in Ortronics Mighty Mo wall-mount cabinets in the MDF.

All the electronic hardware, hubs and servers were housed in the Ortronics FiberMo cable management racks, located in the middle of the telecommunications closets. By putting the racks in the middle of the four IDF rooms, it was easily accessible to work on either side of the rack. Each rack housed the electronics on top so that there would be nothing stacked on top of it for system reliability. The Ortronics FiberMo racks were equipped with AC raceway fillers for use with the FiberMo Interbay management panels, as well as lower troughs to keep the cable separated and organized between the electronics, the patch panels and ORMMAC fiber cabinets. Two ORMMAC IIs were installed in the MDF, each holding up to 64 fiber connections. In the IDFs they installed a total of eight ORMMAC IIIs for up to 96 fibers per cabinet and six ORMMAC Is for 32 fiber connections each.

Ready for the Future

"Although we took the fiber optic cable all the way out to the new high school, we are retrofitting the cabling to the middle school, which will not be all fiber," says Banks. "Most schools have 10 megs to the desk. Most people think that a fiber infrastructure is costly. It's not the infrastructure, it's the NICs, for which we see costs coming down over time. Once the fiber is in, our bandwidth is unlimited. We started with the high school because that's where we see the most need." Currently, the Barbers Hill High School has 750 enrolled students. The new high school is expected to house 1,300 students.

"For additional speed and protection we even installed a unique anti-virus software, which has helped obtain the use of a new Internet-based ASAP product line from Network Associates," says Banks. "With our advanced infrastructure we will be wired to handle the constantly changing technology in data applications."

Arlene Franchini

Contact Information

Ortronics Inc.
New London, CT

Carol Everett Oliver
Freelance Writer for Ortonics Inc.


Category 5e (Enhanced) - A category of performance for inside wire and cable. Used in support of signaling rates of up to 100 MHz over distances of up to 100 meters. Calls for tighter twists, electrical balancing between pairs and fewer cable anomalies. CAT5e is intended to support 100 Base-T, ATM and Gigabit Ethernet.

Cisco IP/TV - A comprehensive network video-streaming system for businesses, schools and governmental organizations. Using network-efficient multicast technology it delivers TV-quality live video programming.

Fiber Optics - A technology in which light is used to transport information from one point to another. More specifically, fiber optics are thin filaments of glass through which light beams are transmitted over long distances carrying enormous amounts of data.

Hub - The point of a network where circuits are connected. Also, a switching node. In Local Area Networks, a hub is the core of a star as in ARCNET, StarLAN, Ethernet and Token Ring. Hub hardware can be either active or passive. Wiring hubs are useful for their centralized management capabilities and for their ability to isolate nodes from disruption.

IDF - Intermediate Distribution Frame. A metal rack designed to connect cables, located in equipment or in a closet. Consists of components that provide the connection between the interbuilding and intrabuilding cabling, i.e. between the Main Distribution Frame (MDF) and individual phone wiring. There's usually a permanent, large cable running between the MDF and IDF. The changes in wiring are done at the IDF, preventing confusion in wiring.

MDF - Main Distribution Frame. A wiring arrangement that connects external telephone lines on one side and the internal lines on the other. A main distribution frame may also carry protective devices as well as function as a central testing point.

MTRJ - A small form-factor style of fiber optic connector that is defined by its high-density footprint and RJ45 locking mechanism.

Multimode - An optical fiber designed to allow light to carry multiple carrier signals, distinguished by frequency or phase, at the same time. (Contrasts with singlemode.)

SC - Designation for an optical connector featuring a 2.5 mm physically contacting ferrule with a push-pull mating design. This connector is recommended in the TIA/EIA-568A Standard for structured cabling.

ST - Designation for the "straight tip" connector developed by AT&T. This optical connector features a physically contacting, nonrotating 2.5 mm ferrule design and bayonet connector-to-adapter mating.

Singlemode - A fiber that allows only a single mode of light to propagate. This eliminates the main limitation to bandwidth, modal dispersion.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.

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