Fiber optics are still the best way to transmit digital information at extremely high speeds and across long distances. If you need to use fiber optics, then you have some work to do.
The networks don’t design themselves, and installing them requires knowledge and experience.
To that end, a few tips can go a long way and help you avoid some of the most common mistakes. So, below, you’ll find 10 of the most common mistakes when installing fiber optics and how you can avoid them.
1. Misunderstanding Connectors
Even if you pick the right fiber optical cables for the job at hand, there are a number of connection types available, and they aren’t reverse-compatible. Take the time to learn about SC, LC, and ST connectors to make sure you’re using the right connectors for each situation, and make sure you aren't trying to mix and match incompatible connections.
2. Mishandling Cables
Copper cables are easy to use and can teach bad habits. Really, they can take a beating.
Fiber cables are extremely delicate. Sure, they have exterior shielding that aims to protect them, but the interior components are easily damaged. Any kinks or bends can ruin the cable. Cables also need adequate support when elevated to prevent them from taking damage from their own weight.
3. Cable Termination
When terminating cables, cleanliness is essential. Again, copper teaches bad habits as you can simply snip and crimp a copper cable.
With fiber optics, you have fine, precise optical lines inside of the cable. Those are made of glass, so any dirt or dust can interrupt the signal. On top of that, it’s easy to smudge those fine wires.
Use proper cleaning technique when terminating cables to ensure a solid connection.
Once you do connect your clean cables, test them thoroughly. Most importantly, test each cable run before moving on to the next section. You can test every fiber for light transmission. You can use detectors to look for faults, and you can perform post-network installation communications tests.
If you aren’t thorough at each node, then when your finished network has a problem, you have to troubleshoot a lot more cable and many more components to resolve the situation. Build each section correctly and test it before moving to the next.
5. Wrong Lengths
It seems like getting your cable lengths right is simple. You just have to measure the distances between network nodes, right?
Even though it is that simple, mistakes still happen, and with fiber optics, those mistakes can be expensive.
So, learn from the woodshop teacher and measure twice before you order hardware. Or, measure more than twice. Be absolutely sure you know how much cable you need before you commit.
6. Minimizing Distance
Speaking of distances, it’s important to minimize the length of each cable run in a fiber optic network, and there are a few reasons for this.
First, it improves performance. Even if your cable is rated for distances longer than the current run, fiber optics are typically deployed for large data transmissions. Every bit of distance you can save improves the maximum capacity of your network.
Second, longer cables are more vulnerable to problems. They weigh more and can damage themselves more easily. Also, more cable gets exposed, and that provides more chances for something to go wrong somewhere.
Last but not least, these cables aren’t free. If you can shorten the distance of your cable runs, you save money right then and there.
7. Mixing and Matching
For newcomers to fiber optics, this comes up a lot. Single-mode and multimode fiber are not the same thing, and they are not reverse-compatible. In fact, multimode fiber cables are five to six times wider in diameter than single-mode cables. You can’t line them up.
So, take the time to learn the differences. Typically, multimode fiber is better for achieving the very highest speeds possible. Meanwhile, single-mode fiber is the superior choice for very long runs (typically over 1 km).
8. Vertical Rise
It’s easy to overlook, but you need to carefully consider any vertical components to your cable runs. As you’ve read, fiber cables are delicate. If they have to gain or lose elevation, that is potentially adding a dimension of strain to the cable.
Make sure vertical rises aren’t steep enough to kink the cable, and ensure that your cable has ample support throughout the run.
9. End Faces
Last but not least, you need to think about the end faces on your fibers. Primarily, there are three: PC, UPC, and APC. Each end face has a different shape and polish, meaning you can’t mix and match these different types of end faces.
Make sure your hardware is designed for the end faces of your cables or you’ll run into a world of hurt.
Learning these tips won’t make you a world-class expert in fiber optics, but they can save you a lot of pain. Remember them, and as you gain experience, you can avoid a lot of painful and costly mistakes on your journey.
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