Evolution of a Standard

I know I have said enough about industry standards, so this will not be another column on that topic. However, I’m going to recruit you and your customers to create a new standard using a time-proven technique—just doing what makes sense! You see, standards come in two very distinctive varieties. What we refer to as “de jure” (meaning “by law”) are created by an authority, such as TIA, and take years to research, develop and then negotiate among the standards developers to produce a standard. But most standards develop from a “de facto” standard: something that people are doing anyway.

Consider the most common multimode fiber optic cable plant of the last 20 years: 62.5/125 fiber with ST connectors. How did that combination become so widely used?

Until the mid-1980s, there were several multimode fibers available: 50/125 micron that had been used for the initial telephone links before single-mode fiber became commercially available; 100/140 micron optimized for LEDs; a proposed 85/125 micron fiber that could use the same connectors as all other fibers, which was a problem affecting 100/140 fiber’s popularity; and 62.5/125 fiber, which was the original AT&T fiber that was set aside when 50/125 fiber proved better for long-distance telco links using lasers.

When IBM created its first fiber link in the mid-1980s—the 3044 channel extender for mainframe computer peripherals—the company chose an AT&T transceiver that just happened to be specified to use 62.5/125 fiber. So it became the specified fiber for IBM’s new product. Since this was back when IBM was the “3,000-pound gorilla” of the data industry, everybody else jumped on the bandwagon and adopted 62.5/125 fiber as their choice, too.

Concurrently, AT&T—the 3,000-pound gorilla of telecommunications at the time—introduced a new connector called the ST (straight terminus) with a cylindrical ceramic ferrule and bayonet locking nut. Compared to then-current choices, SMA connectors with metal ferrules or biconics with molded plastic ferrules, the ST was great. The ferrule’s precision helped improve connection geometry, the ceramic improved bonding to the glass fibers and simplified polishing techniques, and it was cheaper than some other connectors. Instant acceptance followed.

Practically overnight these technology gorillas changed the entire landscape in fiber optic cabling. Premises cable plants to support mainframe data centers and the large number of different LANs currently available (Ethernet, DECnet, Token Ring, ARCnet, etc.) all were designed and installed with 62.5/125 fiber and ST connectors, creating a de facto standard.

To show the power of de facto standards, look how this one withstood the onslaught of standards committees. When TIA started writing 568 standards several years later, it choose the SC connector for political and patent reasons, but users didn’t buy it. Even today, the ST connector has not been displaced. When the TIA committees considered standardizing on a new “small form factor” connector in the late 1990s, no decision could be made because no manufacturer had sufficient support to get a majority of votes. Nearly a decade later, the market has decided the LC connector—another AT&T design, no less—is the small form factor connector of choice, i.e., the de facto standard.

As the LAN market has gone to gigabit and 10 gigabit networks that require more bandwidth than the 62.5/125 fiber used for the last 20 years can offer, the older, more laser-friendly 50/125 fiber, updated for modern manufacturing techniques, has made a comeback. In fact, new development had led to even higher bandwidth 50/125 fiber, called laser-optimized fiber, or “OM3” in international standards terminology. And transceiver manufacturers use the LC connector exclusively for its small size.

Today, knowledgeable users are installing cable plants with OM3 fiber with LC connectors. The fiber is good for 10 gigabit networks (and more), and the LC connectors prevent mixing these new cable systems with older 62.5/125 ones.

So let’s all create a new standard—me, you and your customers. We’re going to call it “OM3,” for the fiber it uses. It will have LC connectors and every component (connectors, mating adapters, cable jackets) will be color-coded aqua to distinguish it from earlier fiber types.

Unlike Category 6, we don’t have a limited cable design, requiring running tons of messy cables; we have the flexibility to run dozens of fibers in a cable the size of a single Category 6 cable. We have the advantage of dry-water blocking to run outdoors or even use indoor-outdoor designs on a campus. We don’t have to worry about crosstalk, high power consumption or removing abandoned cables every couple of years in order to upgrade, all of which are hounding the copper cabling business.

Use this spec in your new projects. Advise all your customers to use it. We’ll promote it on the FOA and SCA Web sites and include it in the next update of the NECA/FOA-301 installation standard.

And we’re going to be so successful with OM3 cable plants that its adoption in the next TIA 568 update cycle will be a shoo-in. Here is the OM3 spec for designers to use in documentation:

The fiber optic cable plant will be type OM3, using laser-optimized (OM3) fiber in a cable with aqua-colored jacket, terminated with LC type connectors and mating adapters all colored aqua. Individual fiber cable runs will be specified by number of fibers and cable type (riser, plenum, indoor-outdoor, etc.).

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


About the Author

Jim Hayes

Fiber Optics Columnist and Contributing Editor
Jim Hayes is a VDV writer and trainer and the president of The Fiber Optic Association. Find him at www.JimHayes.com .

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