This article details the history and performance capabilities of the MTP connector. MTP is a trademarked brand of multifiber push-on (MPO) connector. The article is authored by technical experts from Corning Optical Communications and US Conec—the two companies that jointly developed, offer, and continue to refine the MTP connector. In our Perspective column, we welcome contributions that are opinion-based or technology-specific in nature.
Seasoned industry professionals may recall the excruciating, painstaking days of installing and connecting countless fibers, one at a time. As the number of data centers grew exponentially in the 2000s, designers and installers were tasked with managing hundreds and even thousands of single- and two-fiber connector solutions. To accommodate the high volume of connectors within ever-tighter space constraints, installers and designers were forced to create more-elaborate storage and routing solutions that came with their own sets of challenges.
Fortunately, those days are long gone—thanks in large part to the emergence of the multifiber push-on (MPO) connector. The MPO format dramatically reduced the amount of time, effort, and space required to install and deploy network technologies, particularly in parallel optic applications.Faster deployment was one thing. But installers also needed a way to fit more fibers into smaller spaces. MTP connectors addressed this challenge as well. Even before parallel optics gained popularity, installers were struggling to provision high-density applications. MTP connectors made it easier to do exactly that. In place of a 1U housing with duplex connections holding 144 fibers, the MTP housing was capable of holding 864 fibers—six times the capacity. This fiber density made MTP connectors especially well-suited for data centers with serious space constraints and/or massive amounts of cables.
GOOD TECHNOLOGY GETS EVEN BETTER
With the increasing prevalence of plug-and-play solutions, MTP connectors quickly became the format of choice for data centers, offering an alternative to LC and SC connectors. But the MTP format is more than a niche connector, with advantages that translate across a wide range of technologies beyond parallel optics. Since their launch, MTP connectors have undergone continual improvements that make them the ideal multifiber connector choice for any data center, of any size.
Highly adaptable and flexible, MTP connectors have continued to evolve to meet the emerging needs of installers, data centers, and the organizations that rely on them. Let’s take a brief tour of the key advancements we’ve seen in the MTP format over the past 20 years.
In 1999, US Conec introduced low-insertion-loss MTP Elite connector components. Corning was then able to build on this technology to introduce industry-leading, low-loss, high-density cabling solutions that delivered premier optical performance and reliable signal power. Since then, MTP insertion loss rates have continued to improve, now rivaling loss rates that single-fiber connectors saw just a few years ago.
Even beyond its value in the parallel optics space, a closer look at the MPO format reveals the full scope of its applications. To get a better understanding of big picture and true value of MPOs, we must start at the most logical place: the beginning.
MULTIPLE FIBERS MEAN MORE CHALLENGES
At the heart of the MPO connector lies mechanical transfer (MT) ferrule technology, originated by a leading Japanese telecom company in the mid-1980s for use in its consumer telephone service. This MT ferrule technology became the basis for the first MPO connector, introduced in the early 1990s.
The timing couldn’t have been better. Networks were tasked with transmitting more data, more quickly. As the need for bandwidth increased, the industry began moving toward networks and cabling with higher fiber densities—the multilane highway of data transmission. This heralded the beginning of what is known today as parallel optics, or optical transmission using multiple fibers. Because of the increase in “lanes” used with parallel optics—the number of fibers moving data back and forth—an efficient, high-density interconnect was needed. The MPO connector format succeeded in establishing a compact means to efficiently couple and decouple the high-density MT ferrule format via a bulkhead-mounted coupler. More fibers, however, also meant more installation considerations.
ADDRESSING THE CHALLENGE
To remedy the installation challenge presented by ever-increasing quantities of fibers, Corning joined forces with US Conec. In 1996, the MTP connector brand—a family of advanced MPO connectors designed for 4-, 8-, and 12-fiber ribbon applications—was released to the U.S. market. That same year, the MPO format was standardized by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and embraced by an industry thirsty for a better way to install, deploy, and manage high-density fiber networks.
Before the MTP connector came to market, it typically took two installers a full day to terminate and test 144 fibers. With MTP connectors, suddenly installers had the ability to rapidly connect 8 to 12 fibers at a time with the snap of a tool, or using a preterminated plug-and-play cable, trimming a daylong job to just a few hours. To ensure seamless connections, the MTP connector was the first MPO connector to be factory-verified and pre-engineered to proper lengths for the cable plant. This meant that less skill was required for installation, while future updates, additions, and changes to the structured cabling were dramatically simplified. Revolutionary at the time, these advancements introduced by the MTP connector eventually became the industry standard.