Fiber-optic patch panels offer speedy, tidy connections

As premises networks grow larger and faster, more workstations need to be served via patch panels from the telecommunications closet

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Steve Smith

As premises networks grow larger and faster, more workstations need to be served via patch panels from the telecommunications closet. Fiber is increasingly being used to meet that need for speed, and there are several factors to consider when selecting a patch panel that fits your installation requirements (see Product Update table, page 98).

If you're planning an installation in which all of the elements-incoming cable as well as the network and devices connected to it-will remain in their place indefinitely, then it probably makes more sense to use a distribution panel. These panels are typically located where the cable enters the building and provide permanent connections with limited changeable features.

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The venerable FL2000 system from ADC Telecommunications features a preconfigured panel version for large institutional fiber installations. It's available with your choice of rolled-to-length multimode or singlemode fiber installed at the factory.
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But with many of today's commercial fiber installations, flexibility is essential, and patch panels offer the convenience-if not necessity-of terminating every station within a building in the same communications closet, and then being able to move, add, or change as needed. Patch panels also make for a clean, orderly, central location to easily test and monitor the performance of your network.

Whereas copper-based patch panels are made to accommodate 8-pin modular connectors, fiber-optic versions receive mainly SC or ST types, and more recently, small-form-factor MT-RJ and LC connectors. Several current fiber-optic patch panels are designed to accommodate these common types without requiring alteration, but if frequent moves, adds, and changes are in the offing, make sure your patch panel can let you easily remove the bulkhead plates so that you can change or mix connector types.

An empty, off-the-shelf patch panel may be pretty to look at in a catalog, says Tom Camp, senior product manager at ADC Telecommunications (Minneapolis, MN), "but that's never how it's used. If I'm installing, I'd want to examine one that's fully loaded-the way it will function on the job." Examining a fully populated patch panel, Camp says, will let you determine the type of bend-radius protection it offers, as well as factors such as ease of access.

"In my view, bend radius is a really important consideration," Camp adds. "For instance, are the adapters at a 45° angle?"

Tidy management

Whether for a mixed-media situation or fiber alone, patch panels are designed for tidy management. And increasingly, fiber-optic patch-panel vendors are making organizational and troubleshooting features their trump card. The Siemon Co.'s (Watertown, CT) MAX series, for example, offers a rear cable-management bar for routing horizontal cables to terminations. Other management features include removable port-designation labels and prominent numbers for quickly identifying outlets. You can also configure the panel for a variety of multimedia uses by adding Siemon's MAX fiber adapter modules.

NORDX/CDT's (Montreal) Fiber Express Manager is a modular fiber-management system that is both expandable and reconfigurable to meet your installation needs now and in the future. The system includes fiber-termination and connection modules that can be quickly pulled out from rack-mountable shelves for easy access. FiberExpress also accommodates all major fiber-optic connectors, which are mounted at an angle to minimize patch-cord bending radius.

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Ortronics' Mini-Mod ORMMAC rack-mount patch fiber cabinets provide fiber network interconnection or crossconnection, in addition to cable-management features for organizing singlemode or multimode fiber.
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To save you time and money, some vendors are offering made-to-order preconfigured patch panels. Spoval Co. (Spokane, WA) will build whatever you need for your particular network, including preterminating your specified stubbed fiber with connectors, supplying the interconnect patch and splice panel (or a combination patch/splice version), loading adapters, and providing patch cords.

Ortronics's (New London, CT) Mini-Mod ORMMAC rack-mount patch fiber cabinets can be ordered with an external coil of cable of any length to meet your job requirements, while the venerable FL-2000 system from ADC Telecommunica-tions also features a preconfigured panel version, available with your choice of rolled-to-length multimode or singlemode fiber installed at the factory, and equipped with the number of adapters, retainers, and connectors you need for your installation.

"The preloaded solution is ideal for larger fiber installations in universities or hospitals," says Camp. "There are some do-it-yourself kits out there, but none come close to the quality and speed you get with a factory-installed method. It may be a bit more expensive, but it certainly is a lot easier."

The LX-MP72B models from FONS Corp. (Northboro, MA) can also be preloaded with adapters, and are equipped with cable-management modules and cable-routing accessories to manage cable bend radius and add strain-relief control. The dust and moisture-resistant rack-mount patch panel also features a drop-down rear panel that protects the terminated cable, and a tinted glass front door.

Ongoing challenge

Squeezing more into less space in the wiring closet is an ongoing challenge, and while rack-mounted patch panels are often preferred (for easier connection to the hub, for example), wall-mount models have their place, particularly when working in tight quarters. "This is a very important consideration," says Camp. "That is, is the panel you're looking at versatile enough for a cabinet, wall, or rack installation?"

The Siemon Co.'s Mini-SWIC wall-mount interconnect center, which is the smaller cousin of the SWIC2 that can manage and connect up to 48 fibers in a small space, measures 8.6x7.3 inches and can accommodate up to 24 fibers.

Also for the crowded telecommunications closet or for a simple premises installation is Amphenol Fiber Optic Products' (Lisle, IL) 12-port wall-mount patch and distribution panel that offers the same features as the company's larger panels but in a much smaller footprint. It's available with preloaded adapters and pigtails.

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