The best method for fiber ending

Fiber is no longer the cable of the big guys alone. Things have changed and fiber is more affordable and more popular than in the past—it has even reared its head in the home networking market. Like the tortoise, fiber has taken the slow-but-steady approach.

With fiber’s popularity growing, contractors need to learn the basics of fiber terminating, the all-important second step in fiber installation. There are two popular forms of fiber termination, mechanical and fusion splicing. Others include hot knifing, which is not very prevalent and not highly recommended because it is not recognized as a “clean termination.” The fastest and least expensive option is epoxy. It’s also fairly efficient, and doesn’t require a lot of fancy equipment or specialized training. It takes plenty of skill, however, and not just anyone can jump in and do it right.

Fusion splicing, the most complex and reliable method, remains at the forefront. It is the termination of fiber ends by fusing (or melting) them together by using a fusion splicer. By melting the glass and ending the strand this way, one forms a seamless (at least in theory) connection between the fiber strand and the connector. This is why many refer to this process as “ending.”

Fusion splicing has some key benefits attributed to it. Perhaps the most recognizable is the low loss associated with proper fusion splicing. When a splice is done correctly, one can assume losses in the range of 0.02 to 0.10 dB. Not bad. Another benefit is fusion splices have a longer life span than those made by mechanical splicing. This helps to give a more positive return on investment to the owner since less troubleshooting and repair work must be done after the initial installation is complete.

Fusion splicing is expensive, however, mainly because of the high cost of the equipment. There was a time, not long ago, when contractors would promote the fact that they owned a fusion splicer. Actually owning such a piece of equipment sets you apart from the rest, mainly because fusion splicing was a somewhat rare occurrence (because large fiber installation projects were rare themselves) and not just anyone could afford to buy a fusion splicer on the off chance they would actually get to put it to full use. In fact, many companies bought fusion splicers only when they had a contract in hand that required them to own one.

In general, the cost has come down and fusion splicers are fairly easy to locate. You can even buy one via the Internet. For instance, Fiber Instrument Sales (www.fiscatalog.com) has a range of products in their online catalog. Prices range from $9,500 to $26,000, a kind of purchase that isn’t likely to come out of petty cash. There are many different types to choose from, and some stellar manufacturers play in this market. Some that stand out include Siecor, Fitel, Ericsson and FMS.

Buying a fusion splicer is not that farfetched of a notion, especially when you consider the equipment will pay for itself in the long run. Just one large fiber job should be enough to move your purchase out of the red, especially if it is a high-strand-count project. In fact, having a fusion splicer in your arsenal would help expedite such a project. Once you are skilled in fusion splicing, you can end strands rather quickly, allowing you to take on larger jobs.

Competency in fusion splicing has become much more of a requirement in the industry than it has been in the past. Fiber is here to stay and contractors need to become as proficient as possible in the installation techniques associated with it. This means that, like it or not, you will come across a project sooner or later that requires you and your team to make fusion splicing a part of your repertoire. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.