Many columns have focused on components and installation issues specific to fiber optics. Component selection and installation all must be preceded by the design process, where the overall network is configured. As a result, it seemed appropriate to devote a few columns to the topic, which will run over the next several months.

Fiber optic network design refers to the specialized processes leading to a successful installation and operation of a fiber optic network. It includes determining the type of communication system(s) that will be carried over the network, the geographic layout—premises, campus, outside plant (OSP), etc.—the transmission equipment required and the fiber network over which it will operate. Next to be considered are requirements for permits, easements, permissions and inspections. At that stage, the designers consider actual component selection, placement, installation practices, testing, troubleshooting, and network equipment installation and startup. Finally documentation, maintenance and planning for restoration in the event of an outage comes into play.

Design requires working with higher-level network engineers, usually from information technology (IT) departments, and cable plant designers, such as the architects and engineers overseeing a major project. In addition, contractors involved with building the projects should have input. Other groups also may be overseeing various parts of the project that involve the design and installation of fiber optic cable plants and systems. These groups include engineers or designers involved in aspects of project design, such as security or CATV, industrial system designers or specialized designers, such as a BICSI registered communications distribution designer (RCDD) for premises cabling.

Designers should have an in-depth knowledge of fiber optic components and systems, installation processes, and all applicable standards, codes and any other local regulations. They also must be familiar with most telecom technology (cabled or wireless), site surveys, local politics and where to find experts in those fields when help is needed. Obviously, the fiber optic network designer must be familiar with electrical power systems, since the electronic hardware must be provided with high-quality, uninterruptible power at every location. And if they work for a contractor, estimating will be a very important issue, as that is where a profit or loss can be determined.

Those involved in fiber optic project design should have some background in fiber optics, such as having completed a Fiber Optic Association (FOA) certified technician course. Also, they may have other training in the specialties of cable plant design, such as electrical construction apprenticeship, RCDD, SCTE or ISA training. It also is very important to know how to find in-depth information, mostly on the Web, about products, standards, codes and, for the OSP networks, how to use online mapping services, such as Google Maps. Experience with CAD systems is a definite plus.

References for the fiber optic designer’s bookshelf include the FOA text, the Fiber Optic Technicians Manual and the NECA/FOA-301 installation standard. When it comes to the National Electrical Code, there is Limited Energy Systems published by the NFPA. There also are dozens of books on communications system design, but unfortunately, the fast pace of development in communications technologies means many textbooks are hopelessly out of date unless they are updated frequently. Better to rely on the Web, especially the Web sites of well-established manufacturers, if you ignore the obvious hype in most white papers.

Getting trained specifically in fiber optic network design currently is difficult. The material is covered in part in some advanced fiber optic courses offered by the FOA-approved schools and by large manufacturers that help you understand how to build networks using their products. The FOA is developing a curriculum to allow more of its schools to offer a design specialty course and the new FOA design certification, which is expected to be available shortly. As with any new program, some bugs will be worked out in the beginning, but the bulk of the required material has been agreed on by a committee of experienced fiber installers and trainers working with the FOA.

So please read the columns over the next few months, as they will cover fiber optic network design from beginning (communications systems and their fiber optic needs) to end (restoration and maintenance), with a few detours along the way. When finished, you should have a good overall knowledge of the subject. You might even want to clip these pages and save them, and remember, they will be available on www.ECmag.com.

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