Often at this time, we look back at the past year to see what happened and look forward to the new year, wondering what comes next. While we do that, we promise ourselves to break old, bad habits and adopt new, better ones. While most such promises relate to our personal lives, it also is important to keep up with technical changes and incorporate them into our work, as it can benefit our business tremendously.
In communications, especially fiber optics, things continue to change. Broadband Internet access now is available to the majority of users. Wireless networks are everywhere, but they are suffering from problems, causing the stoppage of many municipal wireless development plans. Businesses are becoming more aware of security issues. Even some manufacturers are acknowledging that UTP copper may be reaching the end of the technological line. After more than a decade of stability, fiber optic component choices are changing to new, higher-performance products.
A consulting client told me one of his major vendors said it was time to convert the client’s networks to optical fiber. The client had interest in upgrading to augmented Cat 6 UTP cable in his facility for future use of 10 gigabit Ethernet, but the cable supplier suggested fiber. Right now, technical issues with UTP usage at 10 gigabits include higher power consumption and latency. For instance, signal delay caused by the large amount of digital signal processing necessary to force 10 gigabits per second down unshielded twisted pair cable makes fiber a simpler solution and a better choice. Savvy cable and network vendors may finally be changing their tune, leading to a big increase in fiber optic usage.
Last year marked a change in fiber optic component choices. The 62.5/125 micron fiber that has been used for almost two decades has been superceded by the new 50/125 high bandwidth fiber. And of the two grades of 50/125 fiber, the higher bandwidth OM3 standard fiber is considered the best choice, as it offers substantial distance advantages over plain OM2 50/125 fiber.
Fiber optic connector choices are changing, too. STs are fading, and even SCs are succumbing to the success of the smaller LC connector. The LC offers one big advantage for users who already have 62.5/125 fiber installed, but are upgrading to 50/125 fiber. The LC connector is incompatible with the SC and ST connectors, so using it on 50/125 fiber cable plants prevents intermating 50 and 62.5 fiber with its high fiber mismatch losses.
Industry standards are being updated with a number of changes that will make life easier and installations better. No, TIA-568 has not gotten rid of the 0.75-dB allowable connector loss yet, although it was mentioned in one recent standards meeting that no manufacturer offers a connector that would not meet a more realistic 0.5-dB spec. What has changed is the recognition that insertion loss testing with a test source and power meter cannot always be done using the one cable-reference method, especially with some of the new types of connectors.
So all three methods of OFSPT-14, the installed cable plant test standard, are now allowable, as long as the test method is included in the documentation. International standards are toying with the idea of only using the three
reference-cable method, the only method that works with any connector and test set combination, but it’s probably years from approval. And contrary to what some people want you to believe, OTDR testing is not allowed as an alternative to meter and source testing.
The expansion of broadband Internet access is affecting the residential marketplace, making it more attractive to electrical contractors. In the midst of all the bad news about the housing market, one good item emerges: Homes are getting connected with optical fiber at a rate of several million homes per year, and new homes now are being built with substantial amounts of high-tech structured cabling.
Traditionally, most electrical contractors have ignored the residential market since home builders were unwilling to pay the price of a quality installation. However, these same home builders are learning structured cabling requires skilled workers for proper installation and often are using certified commercial installers for that part of the job. In a reversal of the process, where electrical contractors often got into structured cabling installations because they were on the same job doing electrical work, they are looking now at residential electrical work since their cabling groups already are on-site. Even if they are not interested in residential cabling, some electrical contractors are installing fiber-to-the-home networks in towns and subdivisions where their expertise is required.
HAYES is a VDV writer and educator and the president of The Fiber Optic Association. Find him at www.jimhayes.com.