Different Strokes for Different Folks: Fiber optic installation standards

By Jim Hayes | Apr 15, 2024
enclosure with cable
In the late 1990s, fiber optics took off commercially to support the new and fast-growing internet. NECA and the Fiber Optic Association (FOA) decided to create an NEIS standard for fiber optic installations, and ANSI/NECA/FOA 301, Installing and Testing Fiber Optics, was published in 2000. 

In the late 1990s, fiber optics took off commercially to support the new and fast-growing internet. NECA and the Fiber Optic Association (FOA) decided to create an NEIS standard for fiber optic installations, and ANSI/NECA/FOA 301, Installing and Testing Fiber Optics, was published in 2000. 

The 301 standard has been revised several times, published most recently in 2016. Since standards are expected to be updated every five years, and the next revision fell in the middle of the pandemic, I worked to create, update and submit a revised draft to NECA only a couple of years late.

Rethinking the concept

Standards revisions must be submitted for public comments and require consensus before publication. After the last comment period, the FOA and NECA withdrew the 301 standard to rethink the concept. Fiber optics had changed so much in 25 years that one simple standard was not going to cover every application. 

Outside plant networks

In the late 1990s, fiber optics was primarily used by service providers building outside plant (OSP) networks to support telecommunications, the rapidly growing internet and hybrid fiber-coaxial CATV networks. Premises fiber optic cabling was just becoming popular, being necessary for the new gigabit ethernet local area networks (LANs) with speeds too fast for copper cabling.

Today, we still have OSP fiber for telecom, the internet and CATV. We also have cellular wireless networks, city-wide security video cameras, intelligent traffic systems, wide area networks for managing the electrical grid and the final connection to the home for broadband.

Premises cabling

Premises cabling fiber now goes far beyond LANs, adding indoor cellular systems, distributed antenna systems, building management systems, security sensors and video surveillance systems. Many premises cabling systems are moving away from traditional standardized structured cabling and are using a LAN version of fiber to the home (FTTH) networks.

FTTH and its LAN versions use the passive optical network, a type of network unknown when 301 was written, that uses passive splitters instead of electronic switches. Its unique network cabling architecture presents challenges in designing, installing and testing its fiber optic cable plant.

Fiber in data centers

Then there is a whole new application for fiber in data centers. These warehouses of servers, switches and storage are connected by thousands—up to millions—of fiber optic cables that have created whole new categories of fiber optic equipment and components aimed at supporting speeds of 100 gigabits/second to terabits/second.

The Telcordia Blue Book

One would think that 301 would be just one of many standards for fiber optic cable installations, but there are only a few noncomprehensive alternatives. The telcos have had to depend on the Telcordia Blue Book. Telcordia was spun out of Bell Labs at divestiture in 1984 to support the telcos that split off from AT&T. While the telcos have been mostly reunited under the AT&T name, Telcordia has been sold twice. The foreign company that now owns it seems uninterested in selling copies of the book, which has not been updated in a very long time.


The Telecommunications Industry Association began writing standards for fiber optics in the early 1980s, and I joined them in 1983. Their focus for fiber optics has been mainly components and testing. Their structured cable standards group still writes standards focused on UTP cable and multimode fiber. Since they merged the fiber optic committees with the structured cabling group in 2009, there has been little work done on OSP fiber optics, missing applications such as FTTH, electrical grids and several metropolitan applications that could use some standardization.

International standards

What about international standards? There is one from the International Telecommunications Union, TR-OFCS (2015-07). Unfortunately, it is also hard to get and—as you can see from the date—a bit old for a fast-moving industry.

In discussing this need for fiber optic installation standards with some of the FOA technical advisors,  we seem to agree—one standard does not fit all applications. Different applications have diverse needs and different installation methods have distinctive procedures. Besides, a single standard would be too large and unwieldy, and sections would need updating out of sync with the usual five-year update schedule.

FOA has just started creating an outline of what such a standard might include, based on our summary of the stages of a fiber optic project. I have shared the draft in my online column at / sombatkapan/ Denis Semenchenko

About The Author

HAYES is a VDV writer and educator and the president of the Fiber Optic Association. Find him at





featured Video


New from Lutron: Lumaris tape light

Want an easier way to do tunable white tape light?


Related Articles