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 Telephone Companies
& Fiber-Optic Foolishness

By Ted Twietmeyer

A telephone company in the Richmond, Virginia area is going around homes and replacing the traditional outdoor, black flat-cable coming from the telephone pole with a fiber-optic cable. One of my relatives lives in that area. She was told, "With fiber-optic, we can save money by not using copper wire." With my engineering background I immediately knew what that really means. First, a special interface box is required which is installed inside the home (or perhaps in a crawl space.) This plugs into the wall with a small adapter. Yes, now the customer forever pays to power their interface electronics. Of course, phone company people will tell you "It doesn't draw that much current." Sure it doesn't. And a carpenter ant doesn't eat much either - over the short term.

 What does the interface box the phone company installs actually do? It converts the light pulses (serial data like USB, but much faster) in the optical fiber to a electrical connection your phone can use. This allows standard telephones to work with fiber-optic cables.

 Interface functions are performed to replace telephone company signals.

 These include:

 1. A dial tone for you to hear when you pick up your phone to call
 2. Generating 90 volts AC at 20 cycles to make your telephone ring (which the phone company normally generates)
 3. Generating the required loop current (typically .020 amperes) to your phone. All ordinary telephones connected to the phone company are designed to use a loop current
 4. Generating busy tones, ringing tones, wrong number tones, etc...
 5. Interpreting the number you dial (like touch tone) into a data format which is transmitted over the fiber-optic line back to the phone company

 All of these functions are normally performed by the phone company in circuitry known as the "subscriber line interface" at the switching system your phone is connected to. With fiber-optics, now this is all done in the home. And powered by your electric bill. It's also possible a microphone is hidden inside the interface can bug your home and send the audio back as serial data to the phone company. You would never know it is there. Some microphones are almost as small as a grain of sand, and to the untrained eye look like just another electronic component on the circuit board.

 That isn't all. Since you cannot use your fiber-optic connected phone if the power fails without a battery, the interface the telephone company installs has a battery back-up. My relative is smart and asked about the battery replacement. She was told, "Don't worry about that. We'll come around about once a year and replace the battery with a new one."

 All this just to save on copper wire?

 What's more harmful to dispose of  - copper wire, or a battery which contains toxic chemicals and must be dismantled to recycle it?"

 During a lightning storm - what's more reliable and unlikely to fail?

 a. A box of electronics which cannot withstand a high voltage spike from lightning coming in through the power line?
 b. A simple pair of copper wires connected to the standard telephone company lightning arrestor, present inside the connection box on the outside of every home?

 Everyone is going "green" trying to save the planet by recycling everything and cutting down on toxic waste. At the same time, telephone companies are running around replacing harmless, easily recyclable copper wire with complex electronics and toxic hard-to-recycle batteries.

 There's more to the story. With copper wire ordinary hand tools and crimp splices are used for connections at the pole. Making fiber-optics connections is far more complex. First, the fiber cable must be cut a certain way with special tools, often by cleaving. Then the ends of the cut fiber-optic cable must be polished to near perfection. This is a tedious process. If polishing isn't done properly the connection won't pass data.

 Often a power line surge or lightning knocks out AC power. Now that same surge can also wipe out your telephone interface. Now you won't be able to call the power company OR the phone company to get things fixed.

 Perhaps the phone company thinks you'll have a charged cell phone ready to use to get help. But sometimes in a bad storm, only a wired telephone can get through to summon help.

 Go figure. All this just to save copper wire...

 Ted Twietmeyer





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