Use the Web to keep up with the latest information

Most fiber optic installers get started by taking a short class or seminar that covers the basics. That usually means a half-hour lecture each on fiber optic technology, how it is used for networks and the various components. Then, there are short hands-on sessions on cable prep., termination and testing. A course aimed at outside plant installation would probably include splicing, too.

That kind of quick course works well for electricians or those already familiar with VDV cabling, imparting enough knowledge to allow the student to develop his or her skills by OJT. Developing skills requires practice, so after those installers do a few jobs, they will find their work becomes easier and their results better and more reproducible.

But the fiber technician must never stop learning. Unlike Cat 3/5/5e/6 wiring with its limited number of options, fiber has many types of components and many installation processes. How do you know when to choose breakout cable instead of distribution? When can you use dry water-blocked cable instead of gel-filled? What are the trade-offs between adhesive and prepolished/splice connectors? How do you learn to use the unique tool kits available from many manufacturers? When do you need an OTDR and how do you use it properly?

The answers, of course, are available, and fortunately, there are lots of places you can find educational material to answer questions such as these. One of the best places to start when looking for information on specific components is the manufacturers. They understand training customers is vital to ensuring their products will continued to be purchased and used properly.

Time spent being trained by a manufacturer on a product you plan to use can be time well spent, especially if the manufacturer has a well-trained staff. Sometimes, however, all you get is a quick overview on the product by a salesman. This can get you into trouble if the salesman is more interested in making the sale than ensuring his or her installers are capable of handling the product properly.

Manufacturers often run seminars around the country that cover their latest product introductions. You should try to take advantage of these seminars whenever you can. Manufacturers can be a good source of new information on standards also. If you can’t make one of their seminars, try to get a copy of their latest videotapes, CDs or DVDs, which are other good reference materials.

Independent training organizations offer advanced technical training, too. If you need to know how to use a fusion splicer or OTDR, you can find trainers who offer courses in those specialties, but often only on request. Check with any local trainers to see what they can offer or who they recommend.

Often, you simply don’t have the time to track down a trainer or manufacturer. You need to learn about a new product right now because you need to install it tomorrow. Fortunately, you have the Internet.

Undoubtedly, the Internet is the best place to find information. The Web has become the best place to find up-to-date information on any topic, including fiber optics. Track down relevant industry groups and see what they offer. For example, the Fiber Optic Association (www.theFOA.org), with which I am affiliated, has a “Tech Topics” section on their Web site with tutorials on many topics and a page with links to many good technical sites that can be very useful.

When you read the latest trade magazines such as ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR, clip ads from the manufacturers you deal with. When you have a few minutes, sit at your computer with the ads and go to each of the company’s Web pages. Find their technical tutorial sections and note what’s available. Bookmark the pages you find useful for later reference.

Internet search engines are also a great help. Need info on “fiber optic splices”? Google returns more than 14,000 links. You can try a bunch of those but you may want to try being a bit more specific during your searches, reducing the time to locate more useful results. If you want to know why some splices show a gain on an OTDR, adding in “gainers” to fiber optic splices reduces the Google search results to a much more manageable 53 links.

I can’t mention the information on the Internet without mentioning “Lennie Lightwave’s Guide To Fiber Optics.” We created this extensive fiber optic tutorial for Fiber U way back when we were giving seminars at the NECA shows. We have kept it updated and added many sections over the years, including “virtual hands-on” tutorials in termination and testing, including OTDRs. Millions of people have learned about fiber optics from Lennie, so it is a good starting point for getting information. Find it at the Web site, www.LennieLightwave.com.

However you get your information, it’s important to keep up to date with fiber optics. Some time spent perusing trade magazines and Web searching will go a long way toward keeping you in the know. EC

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