Smart ways to prevent fiber future shock

It pays to know that what works at the time of installation may not stand up to the rigors of use.

It pays to know that what works at the time of installation may not stand up to the rigors of use.

Joel K. Matthews / ADC Telecommunications

Reliable network operation has never been more important than it is today. If anything, it will become still more critical as services converge and organizations become more dispersed and global. With millions of dollars at stake, real-time communication can make the difference between success and failure. And in today's fiber-optic networks, that communication can be halted by a speck of dust.

Generally, the slower the signal, the less critical the transmission medium. For example, in the early days of rural telephony, there were cases in which farmers, eager for telephone service, ran their own "last mile" using barbed wire. The service may not have been perfect, but it was adequate.

Today, fiber is more exacting. Not only must the fiber itself meet critical specifications, but it is also far more vulnerable to breaks and bends. It is, after all, glass. Joints, whether spliced or connectorized, provide another opportunity for breakdown. And with each fiber carrying more bandwidth than ever before, management becomes increasingly important.

None of us can see the future, but that doesn't mean we can ignore it. Business is, in fact, the art of making educated guesses about the future. No one is always right, but the one who makes the best estimates usually wins.

The following are some guidelines you can use in making networking decisions:

  • Make specific assumptions regarding the future, such as how long you will occupy the facility and the annual rate of moves and changes. These assumptions will be useful if you are called upon to justify your recommendations.
  • Define an overall architecture, e.g., one building distribution facility serving four intermediate distribution facilities, each of which serves four telephone closets. Do this even if it will take years to grow into your plan.
  • Try to set aside the space you'll need for the life of the facility. Reserving space is expensive, but "maxing out" and having to move is more expensive and very disruptive.
  • High-density equipment costs more, but not when compared to the cost of real estate or outgrowing facilities. Equipment seems expensive, but you only pay for it once. Labor is more expensive and can be an endlessly recurring expense.
  • Fiber is cheap; installing it is expensive. Consider placing more than you need-a lot more.
  • An installation that works perfectly today may fail under increased data rates in the future. What seems like overkill today may prevent or delay the need for expensive rebuilds later.
  • Connectorization can be as effective as splicing if properly done. And it's a lot easier to reconfigure.
  • What works at the time of installation may not stand up to the rigors of ongoing use. Temperature, humidity, and handling can all stress vulnerable components. Look for rigorously tested components.
  • Once you've selected your connectors, there's nothing like proper cleaning to maximize their performance.
  • Size your fiber trough for growth. Sure, you may be able to fit one more fiber in there, but eventually, the accumulated weight will have its effect.
  • Document as your structured cabling system grows. Maintain accurate system diagrams and label carefully.
  • Design your system for speedy diagnostics. One failed fiber can shut down a lot of work.
  • Think security. You have passwords on your workstations, don't you?

Joel K. Matthews is product manager, fiber-optic products, at ADC Telecommunications (Minneapolis, MN). For more information, see

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