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Plastic cabling won't save you from electrosmog

Posted on 8 Oct 2012 at 09:38

Steve Cassidy takes retailers to task for advertising the health benefits of a plastic optical fibre distribution system

If only Robert Heinlein had known about electrosmog. His early short story Waldo mixed together a number of themes based around human credulity, incomprehension and action at a distance, as an amusing warning about the way snake-oil salesmen baffle people who should know better.

It depicted a society only too keen to grab the advertised present benefits of a heedless march into the future. Waldo paints a society in which nuclear power hasn't only been harnessed but can be broadcast wirelessly into home or car – that is, until something starts to interfere with the transmissions and threatens the whole economy.

It may just be that the vendors genuinely believe they have a happy-maker on their hands, if only the world could shut up and listen

In our own world, the issue of excessive electromagnetic radiation has become fodder for a large movement of folk who, to be charitable, are easily confused by the difference between the philosophical and the actual. Whenever someone discusses "the impact on our lives of the advance of technology", these folk think not in terms of rarefied intellectual abstractions, but instead begin to fret about shortened life spans, weird illnesses and picking up radio shows via the fillings in their teeth.

In his day, Heinlein had a great talent for looking forward to completely different futures, but Waldo doesn't look as improbable as it did back then. Unfortunately, current speculative fiction seems to have been captured by moralists who value being right above the truths via which they support their opinions. In place of well-crafted allegories about heroes, nowadays we get semi-psychotic blogs, penned by terrified ingénues who are unsure whether their perpetual malaise is caused by their toaster, phone, games console, or aliens from Venus – although it never seems to inhibit their ability to type...

The particular creative mix-up of fiction, fear, futurism and faith that caused me to boggle earlier this summer was, as in Waldo, a mixture of real technological developments with imagined threats and advantages. I'm talking about the application of plastic optical fibre as an antidote to the perceived threat of electrosmog in the home (and my problem is that I burst into a fit of the giggles every time I write or think that sentence).

In fact, it was an electrician who drew my attention to a German retailer (which I shan't be naming for legal reasons) with a proposed solution to such electrosmog for a client high up in the Alps. I've yet to translate all the site's nooks and crannies to my own satisfaction, because asking Swiss friends to help risks them being incapacitated by giggles too (and at me rather than with me). I believe its message crosses the language barrier clearly enough: installing a plastic optical fibre distribution system (POF from here on) is a good cure for the ills created by electrosmog, and it's available from all good electrical outlets today!

Clearing the smog

Sometimes, ironically sneering in the face of hucksterism risks leaving behind exactly those people who should listen, so if all you smart-aleck hipsters excuse me, I’ll get more literal – there’s no actual law of physics that states websites containing pictures of happy people with up-stuck thumbs has to be selling products that will make you happy. It may just be that the vendors genuinely believe they have a happy-maker on their hands, if only the world could shut up and listen. But after that interlude of sincerity, I'm duty bound to act as party pooper by taking their claims to pieces.

So leaving aside all its smiley slogans, what this German company is selling is a household LAN distribution network built from multifunction powered wall plates, the aforementioned POF cabling and a central POF-capable network switch. These wall plates are mostly depicted sitting in a multiservice outlet beside a mains socket, and they deliver three standard RJ-45 connector network points, plus an optional small Wi-Fi base station, all controlled by a master power switch and a Wi-Fi signal strength selector. The cabling infrastructure proposed is the aforementioned POF.

If you make an online investigation of the general topic of using plastic instead of glass for optical fibre networks, you’ll encounter a lot of pretty decent, learned discussions. The basic problem is that, while fibre has had a lot going for it for a very long time, it simply hasn't gained the kind of traction that it should. But messing about with bendy plastic rods strikes us hardened fibre gurus as comical: we're used to stuff that can whack those photonic solitons down a 70km waveguide! Even our jargon sounds cool! Herein lies the gap within which all this electrosmog nonsense is incubated.

Since old-school fibre is hard to work with and confusing to specify, while copper cable remains manifestly and obviously electrical, there's a temptation for those who are phobic about electromagnetic stuff to accept the basic idea that plastic cable equates to no electrosmog.

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User comments

I'm all for...

putting in wired ethernet, whether copper or fibre, around the house, instead of wireless.

I've never lived anywhere, where it has worked well (currently I get around 12kbps out of my 802.11n router). I haven't gotten around to re-wiring the house yet, but for my office, I use a TCP over Mains adapter from Netgear, which seems to have a reasonable throughput (time will tell, we will be upgraded to a 35mbps broadband connection in January).

I agree the POF doesn't make much sense, but it sounds good to the uneducated.

That said, at my previous flat, my neighbour complained that their daughter had problems sleeping, after I installed WLAN there. I changed the SSID and hid it and asked them to keep a diary. After 2 weeks of randomly leaving it on at night and turning it off, we compared notes and their daughter did have problems sleeping on the nights that the WiFi was on.

As I mainly used the office at nights for computing purposes, I simply put a rule in the router to disable the WiFi after 8 at night.

Some people do seem to be sensitive to such radiation. Whether it is bad for them is another matter.

By big_D on 8 Oct 2012

I have never understood why UTP is not installed in new building and refurbs as a matter of course - much as one would install coax so that you can watch TV in each room.
I've just in my son's flat, and logging into his wifi I could see there were at least 25 other networks competing for radio space. So no sleep for big_D's neighbour's child there, then....
And how many of us leave a mobile on next to our bedside at night? After all, they are actually designed to spit out RF!

By WilliamW on 16 Oct 2012

I have never understood why UTP is not installed in new building and refurbs as a matter of course - much as one would install coax so that you can watch TV in each room.
I've just in my son's flat, and logging into his wifi I could see there were at least 25 other networks competing for radio space. So no sleep for big_D's neighbour's child there, then....
And how many of us leave a mobile on next to our bedside at night? After all, they are actually designed to spit out RF!

By WilliamW on 16 Oct 2012

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Steve Cassidy

Steve Cassidy

Steve is a networks expert and a contributing editor to PC Pro for more years than he cares to remember. He mixes network technologies, particularly wide-area communications and thin-client computing, with human resources consultancy.

Read more More by Steve Cassidy

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