A funny thing happened on the way to a report about testing installed multimode fiber-optic cabling. Just when I was certain the encircled flux (EF) launch specification would be the only thing worth discussing, I was reminded never to be certain of such things.
The article that begins on page 15 of this issue does indeed go into detail about EF. But as I was collecting information on that topic, another practical reality of the fiber-optic jobsite could not be ignored. I'm referring to the inspection and cleaning steps that happen (or should happen) before conducting a fiber test.
Inspection and cleaning have always been good practices, but in some ways I put them in the same classification as properly labeling and administering an installed cabling system. When a cabling-installation project is a blank slate, and the network owner compiles lists of "must haves," "should haves" and "nice-to-haves," fiber-inspection and cleaning, as well as cabling-plant labeling and administration, are "must haves." But when cost estimates are assigned to each item, there's a danger these best practices lose their high-priority status. Once actual quotes come back from installation contractors, the danger probably increases.
Even if they remain must-haves and are written into a contract, their status can be placed in jeopardy if change orders begin driving up the project's cost. An attempt to "value engineer" a cabling project, keeping it as close as possible to budget while absorbing change orders, makes it tempting to move these practices all the way down to "nice-to-haves," and in that case, they're as good as gone.
That is unfortunate, of course. Just ask anyone who purchased a preterminated fiber-optic cabling system that didn't perform up to their expectations. Having faith that the system was truly out-of-the-box plug-and-play, the network administrator did just that: opened the box, plugged the system in, and fired up the network. Imagine the disappointment when the system didn't work as expected, and the frustration when it turned out the only thing wrong was that some of the fiber connections were contaminated. This hypothetical scenario has been all too real for some users.
Please don't let the inspection and cleaning of fiber-optic connections fall off your "must-have" list. In the words of @cloudtoad, whom I follow on Twitter, "We'll cross that bridge when it's on fire," is the mantra of all tech. If you don't make inspection and cleaning a priority, the bridge that's burning could be the one to your customer.
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