There is no doubt that fiber optic cables play an integral role in telecommunication industry. Applications like data centers, local area networks, telecommunication networks, industrial Ethernet, and wireless network are all needing fiber optics to ensure smooth connectivity. Each application requires a specific cable design based on performance requirements, environmental conditions, and installation type. The common fiber optic cables like LC to LC patch cord cannot adapt to the harsh environment (e.g. moisture environment or underground deployment), thus water-resistant fiber optic cables are highly demanded on the market due to their water proof nature. Here is what you should know about the water-resistant fiber optic cable.
Overview of Water-resistant Fiber Optic Cables
Water-resistant fiber optic cable refers to the special type of fiber optic cable that are designed and specified for installations where the cable will come in contact with water or moisture, such as aerial, direct buried, or in conduit. The cables in these applications are exposed to or can be temporarily submerged in water, so they contain either a water-resistant gel-filled or gel-free (dry gel) polymer.
Generally, fiber optic cables can be divided into three types—outside plant cable (OSP), indoor/outdoor, and indoor, which are specified based on the environment and location where they are installed. With the exception of indoor cables, all cables contain water-resistant gel-filled or gel-free material to protect them from water and moisture. Before the use of gel-filled and gel-free materials, flooded core was another water-blocking method that is rarely used today (it has been replaced with gel-filled). The following image shows the gel-filled cables.
The gel is a gooey substance that must be removed when accessing and installing the cable. Gel-free cables, which are now more widely used, contain a super-absorbent polymer powder that is activated when it comes in contact with water or moisture. This blocks the water from penetrating the cable and allows for some expansion and contraction with temperature changes. Indoor cables do not contain water-resistant material since they are not typically exposed to water. Indoor (and indoor/outdoor) cables must meet additional flammability requirements dictated by local codes, such as the National Electrical Code.
Tight-Buffered & Loose Tube Cable Construction Provides Excellent Moisture Resistance
Water-resistant materials and cables are included in many industry specifications and standards. Generally, there are two basic water-resistant cable designs: Tight-buffer cables (primarily used inside buildings), Loose tube cables (used for OSP and indoor/outdoor).
It is known to all that most tight-buffered cable designs (seen in image below) are specified for indoor use, but some of them are designed with water-resistant powder and yarn, making them suitable for some indoor/outdoor applications. This tight-buffered cable utilizes an different design approach to deal with the moisture issue. Buffer materials are low-porosity plastics with excellent moisture resistance. This construction very effectively minimises the water molecule and OH-ion concentration level at the glass surface and virtually eliminates the stress corrosion phenomenon.
In loose tube cables (seen in image below), in order to prevent the water from reaching the 250Ľm coated fibers, the tubes surrounding the fibers must be filled with water-absorbent powder or gel that withstands high-moisture conditions, making them excellent for outside plant applications. This approach is especially made to waterproof the cable by filling the empty spaces in the cable with gel. The gel-filled tubes can also expand and contract with temperature changes, which makes loose-tube cable great for harsh, high-humidity environments where water or condensation can be a problem. However, gels can move, flow, and settle, leaves an uncertainty of the filled level of any particular point of a loose-tube gel-filled cable. Because loose-tube cable is typically 250 microns, you’ll need a fan-out kit to build up the individual fiber strands to 900 microns when making the transition at the entrance point from outdoor loose-tube to indoor to tight-buffered cable.
The same level of protection remains in place all along the fiber, regardless of installation conditions, environment, or time. The balance of the tight-buffered, tight bound cable designs is such that it minimizes the open spaces available in the cable structure in which water can reside. Even if an outer cable jacket is cut, or water otherwise enters the cable structure, only a very small percentage of the cross-sectional area is open to water.