I’ve written several articles recently about how technology has improved fiber optic equipment such as fusion splicers and OTDRs so much that the arguments for upgrading are compelling. But new technology is changing more than just
I was thinking about this recently when I picked up a scrap of fiber optic cable left in the street by a crew around the corner from my home. The cable was a recent design—a high-density, 864-fiber ribbon cable, which has become very popular for urban environments. These cables are small and have a high fiber count, allowing installation of many fibers in conduits underground, or by lashing to messengers or overlashing to current bundles for aerial installation.
I brought the cable back with the intent of opening it and documenting the construction for some new educational materials. Before I started, I noticed a long line of writing on the cable that was full of important information about it and the fibers within, so I documented that useful information as well.
A cable examination
I pulled out my toolkit with all my cable preparation, splicing and terminating tools and picked what I figured I would need—a cable jacket stripper, pliers to grip the rip cord, a utility knife and fiber strippers.
When I started examining the cable, I realized that even though I’ve probably worked with hundreds of cable designs, I had never worked with one like this. I was not sure just how to get started.
The end of the cable was almost solid. It had 6 bundles of ribbons and 12 ribbons of 12 fibers, each stacked together inside a soft plastic coating. There was no hard central strength member, just a soft foam filler, and none of the usual aramid fiber strength members, either. The only strength members were two small fiberglass rods on either side of the jacket. The jacket was thinner than I expected, and the cable used dry water-blocking tape, so there was no messy gel to deal with.
Since I was not sure what to do with it, I used the information on the jacket to look on the manufacturer’s website. I found an application note for this exact type of cable. The note was complete and almost seemed to be written for people like me—experienced techs confronted with a new cable design. It even showed three different ways to prepare the cable, depending on what kinds of tools you had.
What’s in my toolkit?
That got me thinking about tools, and specifically my own toolkit. It is about the same as it was 20 years ago when it was used for some very different components and tasks.
My kit was created for adhesive/polish connector termination. I still have crimpers for connectors, scribes for fibers and polishing pucks, pads and plates. Those are not exactly useful today when field termination has moved to splice-on connectors, mostly with fusion splicers.
All those tools devoted to field-polishing connectors are ready for a museum. Epoxy and polish connectors are still used for all factory terminations, but those have been automated with machines that inject precise amounts of adhesive, cure them at a proper temperature and polish dozens of connectors at one time.
Even my cable jacket stripper for outside plant cables was not useful for this particular cable. It was simply not big enough. I needed a jacket stripper for larger cables like this 864-fiber cable, which was almost 1 inch (25 mm) in diameter. Fortunately, the app note showed how to strip the jacket by using a knife to slit the end and using the rip cord.
I learned it was time to rethink my toolkit—add some new tools and retire some old ones. It needs to evolve along with the new components techs are installing and the different processes they require.
Is it time for you to update your fiber optic toolkit, too?
The story of the writing on the cable and its construction will be in next month’s online column on ECMag.com—stay tuned.