The Four S’s of Optical Innovation

Speed, Size, Simplicity, Sustainability: get acquainted with the four S that Corning applies in the innovation of Optical Communications to address the present and the future needs of the industry ecosystem. In this article, Mike O’Day, Corning Optical Communications VP, explores the latest trends and how the 4S framework is used to innovate.


To address the industry’s most critical needs, think Speed, Size, Simplicity and Sustainability

Right now our industry faces a tremendous moment of opportunity in every segment of the network: Public and private investments in broadband are growing, as we work together to connect the unconnected. Data centers are expanding to meet rising demand for information-processing in the cloud, as artificial intelligence and machine learning transform more industries. And in enterprise networks, seamless connectivity is becoming more critical in every type of environment, from healthcare to hospitality to offices.

Moments of opportunity like this call for innovation, across our entire industry ecosystem. As chief technology officer at Corning Optical Communications, I get to work with some of Corning's greatest innovators every day. We draw on our deep relationships with customers to understand their toughest technology challenges, and we build solutions that move the industry forward. We approach this process using a framework I call the 4S model -- based on four key concepts to meet the industry's critical needs. They are Speed, Size, Simplicity, and Sustainability.

Speed: Staying ahead of the growth

So let’s take the four “S’s” one at a time, starting with Speed. From broadband networks to the data center, operators must build faster to stay ahead of surging bandwidth demand and meet required timelines for government-supported projects. At Corning, we have for decades focused our innovation on helping customers deploy their networks on-time and on budget. For example, our Pushlok connectors, part of our Evolv® portfolio, are fast and simple to install – just push, click, connect.

This is just the latest in our long history of innovations that accelerate the deployment of fiber broadband networks. It was nearly 20 years ago that Corning pioneered the first preconnectorized solutions for fiber to the home. What made these solutions so revolutionary was their labor efficiency – they eliminated splicing in the field. And I’m proud to say Corning’s preconnectorized solutions recently reached a milestone: They’ve officially reached more than 100 million homes around the world!

Space: Going smaller, denser

Now let’s talk about Space. While bandwidth demands are growing, the space available for infrastructure has not. That’s why Corning has focused on creating smaller, denser solutions – from fiber to cable to connectivity.

  • One of our newest fibers, Corning® SMF-28® Contour, comes in a 190-micron version that enables smaller cables with higher fiber counts. That’s important because it lets operators maximize use of existing infrastructure during deployment.
  • To help data center operators maximize fiber pathways, Corning developed our first flexible ribbon cable, Corning® MiniXtend® cable with Flow 200 Ribbon Technology. It’s designed for data centers and carrier networks, with fiber counts up to 864. Its reduced outer diameter allows for higher fiber counts per duct.
  • More and more often, installers must deploy fiber in tight spaces not originally designed for today’s density of connections. Corning designed its Evolv® Hardened Connectivity Solutions with Pushlok Technology to meet those needs. The smaller size allows operators to lower their costs, speed their deployments, and stay ahead of demands for high-speed connectivity.

Simplicity: Easier and safer to install

Now we turn to Simplicity, which is more critical than ever. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that the scarcity of skilled labor continues to be a concern for the industry. That’s why our customers have responded so well to the preconnectorized solutions I mentioned earlier.

More recently we've taken that idea of pre-engineered solutions and applied it to the data center. The Corning EDGE™ Distribution System simplifies the deployment of cabling within data centers, all the way to the server racks. It allows operators to add capacity more quickly, because it consolidates dozens of patch cords into a single cable assembly.

It also carries important safety benefits, because installing upgrades inside data centers can involve precarious labor. The task of maintaining or upgrading cabling can involve multiple technicians standing on ladders for hours to access cable trays located directly above rows of servers. Modern solutions like the EDGE Distribution System that feature a single-cable assembly allow for workers to complete the installation much more quickly and easily, saving labor costs and reducing the risk of accidents.

Sustainability: A virtuous cycle

Finally we come to our fourth “S,” Sustainability. At the core of what we do at Corning is invent, make, and sell – and we’re proud to say that our Sustainability work touches all three:

  • On the “invent” side, we embed sustainability into our product development processes. The EDGE Distribution System minimizes the use of cable trays and product packaging – resulting in up to a 55% reduction in carbon footprint compared to legacy solutions. 
  • In manufacturing, our teams take responsibility for reducing greenhouse gases, water, waste, and energy in our operations – and we’ve been recognized 10 years in a row as an ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Finally, we work closely with our customers to help them achieve their greenhouse gas reduction goals. Through this process, our customers provide insight, inspiration and investments that inform our innovations – completing the cycle.

To sum up, delivering the promise of ubiquitous connectivity requires new waves of innovation in every segment of the network – from the data center, to the enterprise, to the broadband networks that bring connectivity to our homes. We need innovative thinking not just in the labs but in the manufacturing and commercial side, as well. And this new wave of innovation will require sustained commitment from the entire ecosystem — operators, standards bodies, installers, and equipment manufacturers.

I hope you find the 4S framework useful in thinking about the ways we as an industry need to innovate: In Speed. Size. Simplicity. And Sustainability. Corning will be with you on the journey – expanding the bandwidth of human potential.

This blog is adapted from O’Day’s presentation to the Fiber Broadband Association as part of its ‘Fiber For Breakfast’ series.



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