Industry standards make the world go ’round. No kidding. Without standards, communications and networking would never work. Telephones allow you to talk to anyone in the world, assuming you speak their language. Standards are the “language” of networks and communications. By adhering to standards, manufacturers know their products can work with other products.

Countries are generally the ones who adopt standards for communications, such as landline phones, cell phones or televisions, but only after the technology is fully developed. As you probably know, not all countries adopt the same standards as we have in the United States, just like with line voltage.

Your cell phone will probably not work at all outside the United States, nor will your TV, VCR or DVD player. Even the digital phone backbone in the United States is different from most of the rest of the world. The Internet, however, is totally international, in part because it was fully developed before international politics got involved.

Within the scope of fiber optics, standards are highly important for interoperability, and thereby for manufacturers, installers and users of fiber optics. Since organized groups of manufacturers develop these standards, they are a set of mutually agreed upon specifications that all interested manufacturers use to develop products.

But standards offer lots of advantages to everyone involved. The collective wisdom available during the development process means products that meet the standards are generally well thought out and highly applicable to the intended application. Successful manufacturers know what kinds of products customers need and what to build for the market.

A large manufacturing base means that economies of scale and product reliability are attained soon after market introduction. And, of course, the user benefits from having numerous sources for each product, and competition among those sources virtually guarantees low product prices.

Consider fiber optic connectors. Most connectors start as a proprietary design by a company that has what they believe is a better idea. As has been shown numerous times in the marketplace, just having a “better mousetrap” is no guarantee of commercial success.

If there are no other companies making the same product or compatible products, users are reluctant to adopt the product. They fear, and rightfully so, that the manufacturer will abandon the product if it is not sufficiently successful, leaving them with no source for replacements.

The TIA standards committees solved this problem by creating the Fiber Optic Connector Intermateability Standard (FOCIS) for connectors. It is a way for a manufacturer to tell the world all the required technical data for its connector, so that others may build connectors, mating adapters or active devices like transmitters and receivers that mate with its connectors, within the realm of patents or other intellectual property that may require licensing.

To date, about 15 FOCIS standards have been approved, covering all the most popular connectors such as the ST, SC, LC, etc. Users can be assured that two connectors from different manufacturers will mate with low loss and back reflection if the connectors meet the relevant FOCIS document, and are, of course, properly terminated. Even though a connector has a relevant FOCIS document, that does not ensure commercial success. The lack of a second source will still be a major problem for market acceptance.

Likewise, optical fiber is specified in standards that ensure products from different manufacturers are compatible with each other and with termination devices like connectors and splices. Standards cover how those fibers are tested for attenuation, bandwidth and their ability to withstand stress.

After fibers are made into cables, new sets of standards apply. Cables are covered by numerous specifications that may not be applicable to every cable type, but include withstanding tension, bending, abrasion and exposure to all types of environmental hazards like altitude, moisture and solvents. Manufacturers and users can use standards to have a common understanding of how the cable will perform under the particular conditions of virtually any installation.

The combination of fiber, cable and connector have important compatibility issues too. The fiber must fit the holes in the connector ferrule and the cable jacket and strength members must be properly retained by the crimp on the connector shell. Standards must be considered for proper interaction of all these components with each other.

We consider standards the “language” of technology. It allows users and manufacturers to communicate, to easily understand each other when describing components, networks and applications, and it ensures compatibility in networks and cable plants. EC

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