Do Fiber Optic Networks require maintenance?

Do Fiber Optic Networks require maintenance?

18 December 2014 | Reading Time: 2 minutes

Fiber Optic Testing and Maintenance:

Though there has been some suggestion that periodic checks of fiber optic networks are undertaken, testing and maintenance of the infrastructure once installed are generally not recommended, according to a recent article by the Fiber Optic Association (FOA). Aside from unnecessary health and safety risks to installers, and the potential for inspection to damage or bring down a network, there are many reasons not to attempt unnecessary fiber optic maintenance.

Why routine maintenance is not needed for fiber optic networks?

The FOA article details that:

  1. Fiber optic systems are designed to be installed, then left alone unless they need repair. Fiber is more reliable than copper cabling, so less likely to require servicing or lose efficiency.
  2. Checks are likely to cause more harm than good, both for fiber and copper systems. Accidental breakage through unnecessary handling from careless or unskilled workers, is much more likely and a common cause of problems.
  3. Most inspections procedures could bring the network down.
  4. The smallest amount of dust and dirt can cause huge problems. Airborne dust is the size of the core of singlemode fiber. As it’s easy to get dirt into uncovered mating adaptors or connectors, why risk compromising the network with unnecessary checks?
  5. Safety – specifically risk to eyesight is also a concern. Links that operate at gigabit and higher speeds usually use 850nm VCSELs – which are fairly high power lasers at the high end of human eye sensitivity. A high power microscope, if the link being inspected is still ‘hot’, would concentrate the light into the eye and risk damage.
  6. Fiber link loss may be different when a link is reassembled after inspection.
  7. If dust within a telcom closet, room or data center is a concern/reason for maintenance, this should be fixed with appropriate sealing, filtration and air con – not damaging checks.

How to ensure systems retain reliability without needing maintenance or repair

If a fiber optic system is installed well, it should not require maintenance or repair. The FOA suggest the steps below outline how reliable systems should be installed.

  1. Design the cable plant to be protected. Protected cables are secure – so bury deep enough to prevent disturbance (around 1.5m), and install a conduit or innerduct when exposed.
  2. Ensure cables are stress free. Cables must be installed following guides for pulling tension and bend radius, and kept within their recommended environmental specifications. If cables are long, they should not hang on connectors as this causes stress. For the same reason patchcords should not be bundled too tightly, and vertical cables should be supported at every meter.
  3. During installation, cleanliness – inspection to avoid dust and dirt is crucial for connectors and adaptors alike.
  4. Use protective dust caps on all connectors, mating adaptors and equipment ports to protect against additional dust and future damage.
  5. Make sure patch panels have lockable doors. This is both to protect cables, connectors and patch panels from dust and dirt, and to prevent unauthorized staff from access. That way if moves, changes or inspection are needed, only those trained and authorized can do so!

This article was based on an original piece by the Fiber Optic Association.

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