When the time comes to buy spools of optical fiber for testing and demonstrating communications systems, there are a few items to consider that will help ensure you end up with an ideal setup. Since it has been proven that following a few best practices will help you get the most out of your fiber, thinking about these four important items in advance will allow you to further qualify your needs as well as speed up the purchasing process.
1. Fiber Types & Manufacturers
There are many different optical fibers used in communications networks, so determining the specific type is very important. Do you need single mode or multimode fiber? Are you seeking to simulate a field network that requires an exact fiber match, or will an industry-standard equivalent suffice? Also, keep in mind that both pricing and availability of fiber does vary by type and manufacturer, so you will need to consider this as well during the project planning phase.
2. Fiber Lengths and Configurations
Once you have selected the appropriate type(s) of fiber, the next step is to determine the lengths needed for your test setup. Depending upon your solution partner, which we will cover later in this article, there are potentially a number of configuration options available to you.
Will your setup include more “standard” lengths that will apply to many different tests, or will it require very specific lengths like in the case of a fiber latency / optical time delay application? Is it preferable to use longer continuous lengths, or is having several shorter lengths for distance flexibility more ideal? Lastly, do you plan to use this fiber for a single set of tests in the short-term, or might it be used for a variety of different tests over the long-term? (If the latter, it may be beneficial to think about lengths with the bigger picture in mind from a planning perspective)
3. Enclosure Type
In terms of enclosures for your fiber spools, there is no question that you should always utilize them, since there are too many risks related to using unsecured and unprotected spools. From the cost of replacing broken fibers and the potential for unreliable test results, to your setup looking sub-standard versus a competitor who did follow this best practice, this is an absolute must and a solid investment.
At a high level there are two primary categories, portable and rack-mount, which than have many variations. This is fairly straightforward as each has its respective advantages, so your decision is based solely upon the preferred setup for the application/environment.
Depending upon the solution vendor you decide to partner with, there may be more or less enclosure options available to you. In many cases, the length configurations you have determined will help to narrow down the types of enclosures that a given vendor can provide from their portfolio to meet your needs.
4. Solution Partner / Vendor Selection
Since the leading fiber manufacturers focus on mass production of standard lengths and do not provide enclosures, selecting a proven solution partner that specializes in selling fiber as part of a quality testing platform is important. While it may seem like installing a spool of fiber in an enclosure is simple, working with bare fiber is not easy. It requires well-designed hardware, skilled professionals, specialized equipment, and very hands-on processes to ensure a great finished product.
Important Note: It takes time for even the most qualified vendors to build and deliver these types of quality platforms, from fiber availability through time/labor for careful spooling, assembly, and testing procedures. Therefore, it is always recommended to plan in advance and not wait until last-minute when seeking to acquire fiber.
It can be very detrimental and costly if this aspect is overlooked and/or if cost is the only driving factor when choosing a vendor. Experience, capabilities, available options, and services are all key factors to inquire about and review during the selection process.
In conclusion, by taking all of these considerations into account prior to making a fiber purchase, it will go a long way to ensuring your setup will provid maximum value to your organization, while making the entire process easier.