This column recently has been discussing the process of designing fiber optic networks, so obviously, the next step is to install them. What does the “installation process” mean? Assuming the design is completed, we’re looking at the process of physically installing and completing the network, in other words, turning the design into an operating system.
To begin, the network owner or user must choose a contractor, perhaps the most important decision in the entire process. The fiber optic contractor should be able to work with the customer in each installation project through six stages: design, installation, testing, troubleshooting, documentation and restoration. The contractor must be experienced in fiber optic installations and should be able to provide references for similar work.
One should be able to rely on the contractors to perform the installation as well as assist in the design of the network and help choose components and vendors. Once the contractor has the assignment, it should be able to help the customer choose the right kinds of fibers, cables, connectors and hardware for the installation. The contractor should know which components meet industry standards, which will ensure interoperability, and what are the state-of-the-art components to facilitate future expandability.
The experienced contractor also should be able to help in the choice of vendors. Experience with particular product types and vendors will allow the contractor to assist the customer to choose products that make the installation faster and easier. These products will create higher performance and be more reliable. Should the customer choose components that are unfamiliar to the contractor, it is important that the contractor know early, so it may obtain proper training, often from the manufacturer, as well as acquire any unique tools that may be required.
We all know the customer is always right, but my experience is the customer is probably not as familiar with fiber optic technology and practice as an experienced contractor. The contractor may need to discuss certain choices with the customer where it believes alternatives may be better.
The actual installation process can involve more than just putting in cable and terminating and testing it. If the contractor is knowledgeable and experienced, the user also may ask the contractor to purchase, receive, inspect and bring components to the work site, which can be another good source of revenue for the contractor. Having full control of the materials process also can make life easier for the contractor, as it has a better chance to keep on schedule rather than depending on a customer who has many other priorities. Plus, it may have the latitude to choose components it is more familiar with, facilitating the actual installation process.
The technicians doing the installation should be trained and certified by organizations such as The Fiber Optic Association (www.thefoa.org) and/or manufacturers of the products being installed. Certification provides a level of confidence that the techs are knowledgeable and have the skills necessary for the work involved.
Details, details, details
The final four requirements from the contractor—testing, troubleshooting, documentation and restoration—need to be discussed before the project ever begins. Every fiber optic project requires insertion loss testing of every link with a light source and power meter or optical loss test set according to industry standards. Some projects, e.g., long, outside plant links with splices, may also require optical time-domain reflectometer (OTDR) testing. The contractor and customer must agree that testing includes troubleshooting problems, fixing them and documenting test results for every link.
Likewise, for the contractor, documentation must begin before the project starts, so the scope of work is known to everyone; it ends only when the final test data is entered. Copies of the documentation, along with excess components left over from the installation, must be presented to the customer to facilitate future network restoration, should it be required.
The contract must include detailed requirements for the project, spelling out exactly what is to be installed, including acceptable test results, and what documentation must be provided. All this should be discussed between the customer and the contractor and agreed to in writing. They are not irrelevant details, as they are important to ensure the customer gets what is expected and the contractor knows what is expected when designing the network, estimating costs, doing the actual installation and providing proof of performance. This will help show the work is completed and payment should be made.
HAYES is a VDV writer and trainer and the president of The Fiber Optic Association. Find him at www.JimHayes.com.
(Ed. Note: For part 2, click here.)