A branch manager for an experienced cabling contractor with whom I have worked for years is known to get a special glimmer in his eye when he discovers extensive fiber optic cable in a project that he is bidding. He likes bidding for fiber optics because he knows that it is a higher-end product (with correspondingly high profits) on which there tends to be significantly less competition than straight copper jobs.

For those electrical contractors who do not share that enthusiasm for bidding fiber—and, therefore, shy away from fiber-inclusive projects—Fluke Networks has made one element of fiber optics work easier and more accessible by recently introducing its DTX compact optical time domain reflectometer (OTDR) for its DTX cable analyzer.

Fluke Networks boasts that the DTX cable analyzer series is the world’s most widely used cable certification tool. It is a copper certification tool that can also perform basic fiber certification with DTX loss/length fiber modules. But the DTX compact OTDR module adds extended fiber certification to the DTX’s portfolio of copper and fiber test capabilities and snaps onto all three DTX cable analyzer models.

Many fiber optic installations—especially on new construction or major renovation projects—require OTDR testing and certification. Many small to midsize electrical contractors may have found that stand-alone OTDR testers include features unnecessary for performing certification on new cabling and to be cost prohibitive, ranging in price from $15,000–$40,000. The DTX compact OTDR will likely be an attractive option for many cabling contractors, with a sub price of around $10,000.

Two tiers of certification

Modern fiber optic cable applications require high bandwidth with tight loss budgets, which, in turn, demand thorough fiber testing. That is done with two tiers of certification, which reflect TIA and ISO standards: basic (tier 1) fiber certification is complemented by extended (tier 2) fiber certification.

A basic fiber certification requires a tester to use a power meter and light source to test single mode or multimode fibers for loss at two wavelengths. It measures end-to-end attenuation (or loss of signal power) and compares measured loss to the maximum loss allowed according to the industry standards for that application. Basically, it determines fibers’ pass or fail status.

An extended fiber certification requires an OTDR tester that shoots pulses of light on single-mode or multimode fiber at four wavelengths. It analyzes traces and identifies faults that may be invisible to basic fiber certification and ensures the fiber cabling meets the defined specifications. Extended fiber certification requires an OTDR trace to characterize the individual components of a fiber link: connectors, splices and other loss events.

In other words, successful basic fiber certification demonstrates that the entire fiber link meets standards, while successful extended fiber certification demonstrates that every component in the fiber link has been properly installed. With DTX fiber modules for basic fiber certification and the DTX compact OTDR for extended fiber certification, the DTX cable analyzer platform fully certifies a fiber plant. The DTX compact OTDR provides automatic OTDR settings, loss limits for events and fiber links, launch fiber compensation, automatic event analysis, integrated copper and fiber reports, and results management.

Familiar interface

An additional benefit of the DTX compact OTDR is that it runs on a user interface that is likely familiar to their technicians in order to minimize the learning curve, enabling installers who are already familiar with copper certification to easily learn to perform extended fiber certification. Technicians see the familiar DTX interface, test commands, stored setup values and expert diagnostics. That results in a shortened learning curve for installers already experienced with the DTX series.

Therefore, many contractors who are already installing low UTP/STP copper cable and certifying it with a Fluke Networks DTX cable analyzer—but have not been installing fiber—can now affordably begin performing OTDR tests by adding a DTX compact OTDR module. They will be able to keep lucrative fiber optic contract portions in house without adding staff or undertaking extensive training for existing staff.

By introducing the DTX compact OTDR enhancement, Fluke Networks may have provided the final straw that some contractors need to convince them to enter the low voltage market. Its affordability, accessibility and versatility may be just the thing to move those companies that have been considering this market to make a move into the field..

MUNYAN is a freelance writer in the Kansas City, Kan., area, specializing in business writing and telecommunications. He can be reached at www.russwrites.com.