Since the beginning of fiber optics, groups such as the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) have worked to create standards. Standards are mandatory for technologies to move from R&D to large-scale commercial applications. Standards provide for comparability in technical specifications and ensure interoperability so, for example, all manufacturer's fibers and connectors can be mated to each other. Standards also establish criteria for users to choose appropriate products for their applications.

While you can find hundreds of standards that cover how fiber optic components should be designed, manufactured and tested, a basic one is often overlooked: how the fiber optic cabling systems should be installed. What are the standards for installation? What constitutes the neat and workmanlike manner of installation for information transport systems (ITS) cabling as has been defined for electrical installations?

Fiber optic cabling is really no more difficult to install than unshielded twisted pair or coax cabling, it is just different. The processes involve some of the same tools and procedures, such as pulling cables through conduit or laying cables in trays inside buildings, but termination and splicing require knowledge and skills that are quite different from copper cabling.

Without defined standards, installers typically developed their own procedures through trial and error or learned them from the supervisors and instructors that taught installation skills.

Having trained a number of instructors myself, I can vouch for the fact that some instructors have learned the installation processes by trial and error, sometimes perpetrating myths and bad advice to class after class. Sometimes their backgrounds are incompatible with the students' focus, such as when the instructor's background is outside plant telecom installation, while the class needs training in premises installation, or vice versa.

The way to correct this problem is to create proper installation standards. That is what the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) Codes and Standards group-under the direction of Brooke Stauffer and working with my organization, The Fiber Optic Association (FOA)-has done. Why does NECA develop ITS/VDV standards? Are they not electrical contractors? Well, the majority of NECA contractors are also involved in ITS/VDV installations, both fiber and copper, so providing them with standards for installation workmanship makes their jobs easier.

The NECA National Electrical Installation Standards (NEIS) are not just for contractors and installers. They are designed to improve communications among specifiers, purchasers, suppliers and contractors. They are intended to be quoted in contractual documents regarding projects to define a minimum baseline of quality and workmanship, creating a basis for understanding what is expected of all parties involved.

NECA has published two NEIS standards for ITS/VDV cabling. NECA/BICSI 568-2001 was written in cooperation with BICSI to cover the installation of structured cabling. NECA/FOA 301-2004 was developed with FOA to cover all aspects of fiber optic installation, both outside plant and premises.

Developing such a standard and getting it approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is no trivial project. The task includes much more than simply deciding what to include in it-it requires refereeing discussions (more like debates) on issues where three people may have three different views and opinions. It is just like the instructors we mentioned above; often an issue is not right or wrong but is influenced by the different experiences of the people involved. Eventually, a compromise is worked out, which usually involves including options for all valid points of view, which ultimately benefits the document users.

The final standard includes useful, sometimes vital, information on how to install, terminate, test and document fiber optic networks successfully, beginning with guidelines for safety on the job.

It is not a “cookbook” per se, as it does not always include detailed processes. What it offers is advice on how to accomplish those tasks properly, what mistakes to avoid and, for the inspector or those approving installations, what to look for to ensure proper installation practices were followed.

As contractors, you should acquire copies of these standards and have your ITS/VDV supervisors and installers get to know them. Often installation disputes involve differences of opinions. Is it bad components, bad system design or bad installation that caused the problem? If everyone has standards to refer to, installers are familiar with them, and if they are referred to in the original job contracts, it is more likely that all parties can settle before the disagreement gets out of hand.

Copies of NECA 301-2004 and NECA/BICSI 568-2001 can be obtained from NECA by calling the NECA Order Desk at 301.215.4504, faxing requests to 301.215.4500, e-mailing orderdesk@necanet.org or visiting www.neca-neis.org. EC

HAYES is a VDV writer and trainer and the president of The Fiber Optic Association. Find him at www.JimHayes.com.