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Fiber Optics Testing: Troubleshooting, Verification, and Certification

Fiber optic testers include tools to perform basic inspection and cleaning, basic troubleshooting and verification testers, certification testers, and advanced OTDR testers for troubleshooting and analysis of existing cabling.

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For simple fiber troubleshooting and verification, the SimpliFiber Pro and source solutions work together to measure multimode and singlemode fiber loss. Built-in results storage and automatic wavelength synchronization save time and prevent errors.

Certification of new cabling per IEEE, TIA/EIA, or ISO/IEC standards is necessary to ensure that the link will run the intended application. Complete fiber cabling certification includes two parts; Tier 1 or Basic Test Regimen and Tier 2 or Extended Test Regimen. Tier one cabling certification is performed with a power meter and light source or optical loss test set to measure the absolute loss of the link and compare it to the limits in the standard.

Certification of fiber optic links requires the right test tools, detailed knowledge of installation and application standards, and the ability to document your test results. The DTX-CLT CertiFiber is one handheld tester that quickly and easily certifies multimode networks. One button measures fiber length and optical loss on two fibers at two wavelengths, computes the optical loss budget, compares the results to the selected industry standard and provides an instant PASS or FAIL indication. Test results can easily be saved and managed using included LinkWare Software.

Tier two fiber certification requires the use of an OTDR to ensure the quality of individual components of the installed link. Learn more about OTDRs and tier-two fiber certification here.

Fluke Networks is the market leader in enterprise fiber optic testing, with a wide range of field-tough fiber testers to inspect, clean, verify, certify, troubleshoot fiber optic networks.

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Fiber-Optic Cable Features

Fiber-optic cables uses lightspeed to push transmissions to their destinations. Using light instead of electromagnetic signals enhances data transmission security, making signal theft impossible. Producing no electromagnetic energy decreases electromagnetic interference (noise) and the spark-induced fire hazards associated with copper wire.



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Which Fiber?

Premises networks are quite different from long-haul outside plant systems. Long haul systems use singlemode fiber which has the lowest attenuation and virtually unlimited bandwidth. Premises cabling distances are short so attenuation of the fiber is of less concern, although bandwidth can be a major issue with gigabit networks and faster. Most premises networks use multimode fiber since it uses linexpensive sources like LEDs and VCSELs. Early, and slower, premises systems used LED sources with 62.5/125 micron (called OM1) fibers (and 100/140 in the earliest LANs), but LEDs are not useable above about 250 Mb/s. With the advent of Gigabit Ethernet and the faster versions of Fibre Channel, premises networks switched to transmitters using 850 nm VCSELs,  vertical cavity surface-emitting lasers, that offered adequate speed at a very low cost.
Above 1 Gb/s, fiber bandwidth became an issue, as the distance limitation was fiber bandwidth not attenuation, especially with OM1 fiber. With the advent of Gigabit Ethernet, fiber manufacturers brought back an older fiber design, 50/125 micron (now called OM2 fiber), that had higher bandwidth since it was originally designed for use with lasers around 1980. Further recent developments of  50/125 fiber has provided extemely high bandwidth capability (OM3 fiber.)  Most current networks use OM3 fiber for new installations as it provides adequate bandwidth for future 10 gigabit networks. Future networks at 40-100 Mb/s have spurred development of OM4 fiber with even higher bandwidth. More on fibers.
Many networks not only use the highest bandwidth multimode fiber, but also install hybrid cables which contain both multimode and singlemode fibers in the backbone. Some current applications already use singlemode, like CATV video or some telephone or cellular antenna systems.
Since many premises networks already have 62.5/125 fiber systems, adding 50/125 for new systems requires not mixing them, as connecting 62.5/125 fiber to 50/125 fiber will cause large mismatch fiber diameter losses. Color coding the OM3 fiber in aqua per the standards is one good way to distinguish them. Another solution is to use LC connectors on OM2/OM3 systems which are not intermateable with ST or SC connectors commonly used on OM1 fiber cables.



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Other Premises Uses For Fiber

Premises cabling for LANs is where the fiber/copper/wireless arguments generally focus. A century and a half of experience with copper communications cabling gives most users a familiarity with copper that makes them skeptical about any other medium. And in many cases, copper has proven to be a valid choice. Most building management systems use proprietary copper cabling, for example thermostat wiring, as do paging/audio speaker systems. Security monitoring and entry systems, certainly the lower cost ones, still depend on copper, although high security  facilities like government and military installations often pay the additional cost for fiber’s more secure nature.
Surveillance systems are becoming more prevalent in buildings, especially airports, government offices, banks, casinos or other buildings that are considered possible security risks. While coax connections are common in short links and structured cabling can run cameras limited distances on Cat 5E or Cat 6 UPT like computer networks, fiber has become a much more common choice. Besides offering greater flexibility in camera placement because of its distance capability, fiber optic cabling is much smaller and lightweight, allowing easier installation, especially in older facilities like airports or large buildings that may have available spaces already filled with many generations of copper cabling.
Industrial networks have used fiber for many years. In a factory environment, immunity from the electrical noise generated by machinery is often the primary reason for using fiber instead of copper cables. The long distances in large buildings and the need to have small cables that can easily be pulled in conduit also argue for fiber’s use.



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The Role of Fiber Optics In Premises Networks

While UTP copper has dominated premises cabling, fiber optics has become increasingly popular as computer network speeds have risen to the gigabit range and above.  Most large corporate or industrial networks use fiber optics for the LAN backbone cabling. Some have  also adopted fiber to the desktop using a centralized fiber architecture which can be quite cost effective. Even fiber to the home architectures are being used in premises networks.

Fiber offers several advantages for LAN backbones. The biggest advantage of optical fiber is the fact it can transport more information longer distances  in less time than any other communications medium.  In addition, it is unaffected by the interference of electromagnetic radiation which makes it possible to transmit information and data through areas with too much interference for copper wiring  with less noise and less error, for example in industrial networks in factories. Fiber is smaller and lighter than copper wires which makes it easier to fit in tight spaces or conduits.  A properly designed centralized fiber optic network may save costs over copper wiring when the total cost of installation, support, regeneration, etc. are included.



Centralized Fiber To The Desktop
Replacing UTP copper cables to the desktop with fiber optics was never cost effective, as each link requires converters to connect to the copper port on the PC to fiber and another on the hub/switch end unless dedicated hubs/switches with fiber ports are used. Some users did pay that cost, as they expected to upgrade to speeds that would not run on UTP and did not want to install upgrades each time the network speed increased.
However, the solution to cost-effective fiber in the LAN is using centralized fiber (see right side of diagram above.) Since fiber supports longer links than copper, it’s possible to build networks without telecom rooms for intermediate connections, just passive fiber optics from the main equipment room to the work area. In the standards, this is known as centralized fiber architecture. Since the telecom room is not necessary,  the user saves the cost of the floor space for the telecom room, the cost of providing uninterrupted power and data ground to the telecom room and year-round air conditioning to remove the heat generated by high speed networking equipment. This will usually more than offset the additional cost of the fiber link and save maintenance costs.

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What is an Optical Tap?

An Optical tap is a passive device that can split an optical signal into two identical data streams using a prism. One of these streams is passed through the network in its normal route, and the other is sent to an analyzer/ monitoring station for monitoring the data passing through a Fiber cable. So, if you want to continuously monitor the data flow between a SAN Network and the Optical Fiber Switches that are connected using Fiber Cables (for example), you can use an Optical Tap /Fiber Splitter to do so.

Generally, the Optical tap is connected in-line. That is, the Fiber cable from the Optical switch terminates on the splitter and from the splitter two fiber cables go to the Network destination (like SAN/ Server/ Another Optical Switch, etc) and Monitoring device respectively, as shown in the first diagram. The optical signal is split into a ratio of 50:50 to 80:20 (Network Destination : Monitoring Device), depending on the type of optical splitter used.

There are two types of Optical Taps/ Splitters. Single Channel splitters take one input and give two output signals (as shown in the first diagram) & Multi Channel splitters accept multiple inputs and connect to multiple outputs (as shown in the second diagram).

Optical Taps are mainly used to give network visibility, which makes trouble-shooting of networks easier. Copper Taps provide a very similar function like Optical taps (In copper networks using Cat 5/6 Cables) but they duplicate the data using electronic circuitry, instead of using a prism.

Advantages of Optical Taps:

Optical taps are passive devices and hence they don’t need any power supply.
The monitoring station/ network analyzer receives an exact out-of-band copy of the data stream traveling through the optical cable.
The data stream that is flowing through the cable is not affected due to an Optical splitter.
Optical taps do not induce any latency of its own.
One can use a span port (on the Optical switch) to monitor the Optical ports, but the capacity of the analyzer is limited to the speed of the span port. In a heavily used network excess traffic (beyond its capacity) is dropped by the span port. Since Optical taps use individual splitters for each cable, there is no dropping of packets.
Optical taps are useful for monitoring a Fiber Channel based SAN without interrupting the data flow.
Optical taps can operate in multiple line speeds – 100 Mbps, 1 GE & 10 GE.



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Fiber Optic Network Cable Protection

Protection of the fiber optic network cable depends on the particular application. As an example, within pathway spaces, fiber optic network cable upgrade can be an issue since inner duct is used for fiber protection. The process in such cases is time-consuming because the technician has to install this inner duct throughout the pathway and pull out the fiber optic network cable from the inner duct.

Deciding on the required applications as well as capabilities required are critical to determining the kind of fiber optic network cable you need.



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Restoring fiber-optic local area networks

Fiber-optic technology provides the capability to transmit huge amounts of information over long distances. This makes it an ideal medium for long-haul applications such as long- distance telephone trunk lines and cable-TV loops. However, the high bandwidth of optical fiber has also made it useful in campus and premises applications–mostly in backbones, where its information-handling capacity and long transmission distance have offset perceived drawbacks, including high cost and difficulty of installation.

Telephone companies and other service providers have well- established routines for restoration following outages. They need such procedures because their long cable spans often run in exposed aerial locations where cable is strung between utility poles, or cables are direct-buried where they can be cut by backhoes and other digging equipment. Restoration practices, then, are critical to the operation of these long-distance telecommunications systems.

Local area networks (LANs), on the other hand, consist of intrabuilding and interbuilding links covering relatively short distances when compared to the wide-area and metropolitan-area networks usually associated with optical communications. As a result, LANs require different approaches and equipment if the cabling installer or maintainer is to be responsive to emergencies and provide restoration service quickly.

All networks start at a conceptual or design stage. During this stage, you must establish a financial value for the type of restoration strategy you want to assume in providing the physical plant with protection. For example, for networks where high data rates are required, reliability is critical to the success of an enterprise, security is an issue, or priority users must be served, an important design consideration should be route diversity. This means running cable over two different routes, not putting two separate cables in the same duct. This strategy, of course, can raise the costs of materials and construction.

Another issue to consider at the design stage is the types of failures that have occurred in the past. Because history repeats itself, even with network failures, a restoration plan can be built around maintenance and repair records. For example, the following fiber-optic problems can cause a LAN to fail:



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Installing and testing fiber-optic cabling plant

Cabling installation professionals face safety hazards when working with both copper and fiber-optic cables, but if you ask them which cable provokes more cautious handling, they are likely to say copper because of the electricity it carries. Since optical fiber carries light, it is assumed to be the safer medium. This belief may be misplaced, however. While optical fiber doesn`t carry electricity, it does transmit light, which, in some instances, can damage the eye. The glass fiber itself also poses a danger, potentially becoming embedded in or under the skin.

In recent years, common safety concerns have been addressed in most cabling industry training programs and materials, but fiber-optic safety still takes a backseat to other safety concerns, according to Larry Johnson, president of The Light Brigade (Kent, WA), a fiber-optic training company. “The industry downplays fiber-optic safety. It`s not seen as a major issue,” Johnson says.

But Johnson and other industry experts caution that fiber-optic safety deserves the full attention of installers. “Many people are unaware of the problems that fiber poses,” says Tom Reinert, national sales manager for the Fiberoptic/Telecom Div. of Clauss (Fremont, OH). “People are coming into the fiber arena from the electrical world with a strong respect for electricity and electrical wire. They should carry that same sort of respect for glass fiber.”

Reinert notes, for instance, that the glass-fiber scraps generated as a product of terminating fiber-optic connectors pose a safety hazard. Nearly every installer who works with fiber has had a glass splinter at one time or another.

Fiber scraps can become glass splinters

To terminate fiber-optic cable, whether for connectorization or splicing, the installer usually strips back the cable`s jacket and buffer to access the glass fiber and its cladding. Once stripped, the fiber is inserted into the connector. A cleave tool is used to produce a smooth endface and prepare the fiber for insertion into a splice or for polishing.

But what happens to the piece of glass that has been cleaved? The cleaved fiber may fall where it will–on the top of the table where the job is being done, at the bottom of the raised floor, or maybe into a cup of coffee that is close by. The scraps may even be brushed into a nearby garbage can. Then what happens if someone rests his or her hand on top of that fiber scrap? The glass is transparent and the scrap is probably small, so unless the person is the one who did the terminating, he or she may not know the hazard is there.

By comparison, a small wood splinter may not pose a threat to most people, but a glass sliver could. The nearly invisible sliver may be impossible to locate once it breaks the skin, so in many cases, the splinter cannot be removed until the area becomes inflamed and infected.

Safety kit to the rescue

To combat such potential danger and with input from fiber-optic training schools, Clauss introduced its Fiber-Safe fiber-optic safety kit two years ago. Reinert says it`s the only such kit on the market. It includes safety glasses (for keeping eyes free of scraps), a black polishing/work mat (the black surface makes it easier to locate fiber scraps), Teflon-coated tweezers to remove splinters (regular tweezer ends break fiber scraps), and a bifurcated swipe (for cleaning fiber ends and sterilizing the tweezers for splinter removal). One of the most popular components of the kit is the fiber-scrap trash can, which provides a single place for disposing of bits of fiber. Once full, the small trash can may be incinerated.

While the fiber-scrap trash can is convenient, many installers still choose to use an old standby for catching the scraps–double-sided tape. The scrap-laden tape can be tossed into the trash can. However, this system has its own problems. A janitor emptying the garbage later could get a splinter and not know what it is.

“The key point is that the contractor has to be responsible for his or her debris,” Johnson notes. “If he leaves it in the garbage can or drops it in a raised floor, the person coming in later is going to pay the penalty.”

Johnson suggests that contractors police themselves. “You are dealing with a liability issue, and if you are the end-user, you need to protect yourself,” he adds. “The end-user may even want to write up a section on proper fiber disposal in the contract.”

With plastic optical fiber becoming better known, questions about its safety may also arise, but this concern is not entirely warranted, says Johnson. The core of plastic optical fiber is too large to be hazardous, and the fiber is not as sharp as glass.

“With plastic, you don`t see the fracturing of the end like you do with glass,” Johnson states. “A glass-fiber end is very similar to a hypodermic needle. It doesn`t take much for it to break the skin.”

A look at lasers

Once installed, fiber poses another set of hazards connected with the light being carried through it. Installers unfamiliar with fiber-optic technology may look at the fiber`s end to verify that light is being transmitted. What makes this so hazardous is that the light used in fiber- optic communications systems is in the infrared range and is not visible to the human eye.

Gene Conway, president of Network Partners (Huntingdon Valley, PA), a training and consulting firm, says he emphasizes this point in his courses. “The real danger is that you could be working on an optical circuit, and if you are not familiar with fiber, you may look for a red light or a red laser, similar to the pointer an instructor uses,” he says. “Light sources used for transmitting 1300 or 1550 nanometers do not produce visible light.”

Because viewing this light beam is not painful, the iris of the eye does not close involuntarily to protect the retina, and the retina can be damaged. The safety of lasers is covered in ansi z136.2-1988: “For the safe use of optical-fiber communications systems using laser diode and light-emitting diode (led) sources.”

Lasers used in telecommunications tend to fall into one of two classifications–Class I or Class II–says Curtis Smith, an applications engineer with test-equipment manufacturer Tektronix Inc. (Beaverton, OR).

“Most telecommunications transmitters and optical time-domain reflectometers (otdrs) fall into the Class I classification,” adds Smith. “These lasers are considered to be inherently safe. The reality is that if you are looking into a Class I laser you are more in danger of poking your eye out with the end of the fiber than of being hurt from the light.”

Class II lasers are more powerful transmitters. Visual fault finders, for instance, put a strong signal on the fiber and fall into this category. The signal they produce is so powerful that, if there is a break in the fiber, the light is visible through the jacket. While otdrs are considered Class I devices, some do have a visual fault-finder port.

Class II transmitters are not usually found in local area networks (lans) or telephone-system environments. Smith says, “The high-powered transmitters are mainly used in cable-TV systems. This is where you have a very strong transmitter that can send signals through 1 to 12 splitters. The signal must be strong enough to reach the 12 locations.”

An important difference between these two classifications is that Class I lasers do not require any specific warning label. On the other hand, Class II devices must be identified with a warning label, which is usually printed in red and notes that the device produces hazardous light.

Commonly found in the lan environment are leds. Because these light sources are typically used in short- distance environments involving multimode fiber, they don`t pose the risk that lasers do. Lasers are usually used with singlemode fiber.

One tool that can increase the danger from light sources is the microscope, which magnifies the fiber`s end to inspect it for connectorization. If a technician looks into the scope and the light source is sending a signal, the image will be considerably magnified, and the reflected light will be directed at the eye. As a built-in safety mechanism, most scopes come equipped with some sort of laser filter.

However, The Light Brigade`s Johnson notes that the weaker scopes–those that have 30- to 100-power capabilities–often don`t include filters. “The 200- and 400-power scopes have filters,” he adds. “You pay a little more money for them, but you also get the safety issue taken care of.”

Laser safety in the future

It would be logical to assume that in the future lasers will be stronger to send signals over longer distances and at increased rates, leading to increased safety problems for installers, but that is not necessarily the case. Because receivers and intervening fiber-optic components have become more sophisticated and efficient in recent years, high-powered light sources have not been needed.

“There have certainly been advances in optical amplifiers, and the receivers have become more sensitive to smaller power levels,” says Tektronix`s Smith. “Today`s systems are using what is there more efficiently.”

One area that could increase the power being transmitted is wavelength-division multiplexing (wdm). Smith explains, “If you have an older system that is producing a wavelength of light at 1550 nm, which is typical of longer-haul systems, you have one transmitter and one receiver. The wdm system is going to use 1550 nm, as well as 1560 and 1540 nm, and so forth. So now you`ve put four-, six-, and eight-transmitter lasers onto that fiber.”

He adds that individually these transmitters are Class I lasers because they are sending at 1550 nm. “But now that you`ve put up to six times the amount of power on that fiber, you are going to get an overall higher power level because you have several wavelengths on a fiber as opposed to one. Unfortunately, the classification covers the laser device, not the system.”

Overall, Smith suggests that people use common sense. “If you don`t know what`s going into the other end of the line, don`t look at the fiber. Be careful, but you don`t need to be paranoid.”



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Passive optical network

A passive optical network (PON) is a point-to-multipoint FTTP network architecture in which unpowered optical splitters are used to enable a single optical fiber to serve up to 128 customers. A PON reduces the fiber and central office equipment required compared with point-to-point architecture.

Downstream signal coming from the central office is broadcast to each customer premises sharing a fiber. Encryption is used to prevent eavesdropping.

Upstream signals are combined using a multiple-access protocol, usually time division multiple access (TDMA).



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