Fiber Connections Inc.
Fiber Connections focuses on communications infrastructure in the industrial, telecom and enterprise markets. To remain competitive in these tight markets, the company took the road towards building a strong and diverse portfolio of capabilities, and then to apply those capabilities to expand into new markets such as the security technologies market. Simply put, new technologies are opening more and more markets for specialized passive and active network components.
Incorporated in 1994, Fiber Connections Inc. celebrates its 20th anniversary in business, commanding two facilities – head office Schomberg, Ont., which focuses on business operations, finance, engineeringand the majority of inside sales, and production facility in are focused in Summerside, PEI. “We have about twenty employees here in Ontario, and 60 in PEI, and probably 85 to 90 per cent of production is done there,” says Paul Fujiwara, President and Chief Financial Officer.
While margins had tightened due to the influx of the cheap offshore products and commoditization, the company realized that customers don’t want products, they want complete solutions. “It’s key to build a relationship with the customer so we can provide a good viable product. We don’t consider it a commodity product, we consider it part of a solution,” says Fujiwara.
Even with many players continuously entering the field, fiber remains a lucrative market, due to the fact that the overhead of fiber optic networks is lower than that of the traditional networks. The traditional networks are based on copper connections, and were used heavily in the past. The cost of copper and also the bandwidth hungry requirements of the electronics industry make fiber the only attractive industry medium.
“We started off just making patch cords and simple connections, but now we have fibers going to the desk, to the home, to cell towers, to wireless radios for high-speed networks and data centres. We are seeing new technologies like direct Ethernet and passive-optical networks coming into the industry Instead of using copper-based signal systems, most systems are trending to fiber optics to get high speed, high bandwidth communications to the masses,” explains Hank Van Der Giessen, Sales Manager.
New technologies in the area of fiber are taking over, and to keep up with the industry demand, Fiber Connections remains relentless in continuous R&D and improvement of fiber optic product characteristics. “Each year fiber becomes more refined. Some products remain the same, but every couple of years customers want more speed, and the specifications that people want to use also go up. In our design activity we need to keep track of what the market wants and develop new products before people ask for them,” says Van Der Giessen.
The new technologies expanded the field and gave Fiber Connections more opportunities to sell their products. With increasing demand for network access and increasing requirements for speed and high bandwidth, has come the need for more and more high tech connections at each end. This means more end products such as patch cords and electronics that this fiber connects to – the company’s re-discovered market.
Fujiwara points that the company focuses on two areas of expertise – passive and active optical products. “On the passive side, different types of cables need to be terminated due to new cable technologies replacing them, and we are the ones terminating them. We work with new and upcoming cables and connectors that are being developed and we find ways to manufacture products with them effectively and with quality while still being able to make money. We’re keeping our eyes on the markets and processes that allow us to make the required products.
“The other side of our focus is the active side,” says Bill Slater, Engineering Manager. “We’re continuously looking for communication protocol changes, communications speed increases, Power over Ethernet power increases – all those things that people demand in their modern networks. We’re coming up with electronic designs that meet and exceed those requirements before customers are looking for them.”
The company sales team remains an integral part of the R&D process, bringing the customers’ projects and ideas to the drawing table. To this, Fujiwara says, “They see what the customers are looking to do. We could also have an idea that enhances a concept to make a better product. The one thing that’s unique about us is that a lot of our partners are billion-dollar companies. We’re not near that size. Yet they treat us as partners as they want to distribute our products for their customers as well.
“The offshore competition forces us to constantly bring out new products and to innovate. The key in our business is that if we don’t keep up with technology, we will be passed by quickly. We’ve decided where we’re going to be working is with our proprietary products and expanding that. Some of these products evolve into new products, allowing for further growth.”
“Competing against offshore is the tough part,” adds Van Der Giessen. “We compete by essentially not competing. We have customers who need specific solutions for specific needs. The general run-of-the-mill commodity product that they can get offshore won’t meet their requirements. There are some fairly complex assemblies where fibers are terminated on one side of the cable and there might be several different drops on the other side. There might be specific customization that the customer wants, that’s nearly impossible for an offshore customer to create and ship when the customer needs it.”
The company developed its GatorPatch for the ITS industry (Intelligent Traffic Systems), which is becoming more prominent, with many opportunities worldwide (cities, municipalities and states) to design and build traffic control systems – control traffic lights, take pictures, count cars, and even provide emergency services through the network.
“The Gator Patch fits perfectly into that application. We have spec positions in several municipalities in Canada, and about 15 to 20 DOTs (Departments of Transportation) in the U.S. This is a big portion of our business. Our Newer version is also suitable for outdoor installations and is being used by the cell carriers to distribute communication signals, and we have been involved in several big projects over the past few years deploying the 3G and LTE networks,” says Van Der Giessen.
GatorLink is the latest product that ran through the company’s R&D mill. This fiber/copper media converter carries active electronics, and it converts fiber-optic signal to a copper signal at all industry speeds while injecting Power over Ethernet to both communicate with and power network devices.
Our imagination is the key to our future. For example, we see a need for a Web Bot. This is a universal network device that can be plugged to the network at any location, and allows the user monitor and control actions and information. With its own web server, the product is a network entity in itself. “You could go anywhere in the world and connect to it and it can do things for you. Our concept is to develop this core product with a number of generic and custom input-output devices. It could monitor temperature, it could measure pressure. It could activate a security lock on a door. It could turn on and off stoplights. It could sniff for explosive materials – it could provide any interface to any sensing and activation devices people want from any location. It would be designed specifically to be used on a fiber or copper link. It would allow you to configure it for whatever job you want it to do. It’s currently in the IP protection and conceptual stage. We’re looking into typical applications and outlining design plans,” says Slater.
At the heart of Fiber Connections Inc., the business success remains directly connected to business agility, and the expertise the company engineering team can provide to clients in the market overrun by cheap offshore commodity. The company is able to change its approaches and adjust its products just as fast as the customers change their ideas and requirements, and provide efficient solutions to constant influx of technological challenges. “The core of our business is that we always want to try to sell a solution, not just product,” concludes Fujiwara.