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ENSURING THE AVAILABILITY AND

084 APPLICATION NOTE


RELIABILITY OF DARK-FIBER NETWORKS

Benoît Masson Eng., Product Manager

Following the telecommunications deregulation and the advent of new high-speed services and applications, the telecom world witnessed
a fiber-network construction boom and, in turn, the appearance of a vast number of new players. Among these new players, sometimes
categorized as competitive local-exchange carriers (CLECs), are start-ups and public utility companies. The latter decided to use their
right-of-ways to build fiber networks. Many of the new operators chose to concentrate their offering on the physical layer, or on the fiber itself.
They are typically referred to as dark-fiber providers. This means that they strictly sell fiber access, letting their customers provide the equipment.

In order to be competitive as well as to respect regulations and service-level agreements (SLAs), all carriers must maintain an optimal level of
service, which means keeping the service disruptions to a minimum and reducing the duration of the disruptions when they do occur.
Disruptions can be caused by a number of different things such as:
Network elements (NEs) (e.g. software glitch in a switch or a transmitter)
Power outages
Damage or breaks in fiber cables (This is the only thing that dark-fiber providers sell!)

According to the cases reported to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), more than one third of service disruptions are due to
fiber-cable problems, and many of those disruptions have involved lifeline 911 services. Therefore, rapidly finding the cause of the disruption
is critical for minimizing its effects.

Aerial cables can be affected by environmental factors such as high winds, freezing rain, falling trees, etc. In fact, there was a case that
occurred in June 2001, in which a dark-fiber provider that was leasing fibers to a major inter-exchange carrier (IXC) lost a cable due to a fallen
tree. The disruption lasted 14 hours and 31 minutes and caused 150 000 blocked calls.

Several types of breaks can also occur in underground cables. Accidental digging by construction crews is a frequent problem. Fires in
manholes, or nearby, often cause cable damage, resulting in loss of service. Other cable cuts can also be the result of vandalism. In some
countries, underground fiber cables even get stolen by mistake by people who want to melt the copper and sell it.

Submarine cables are not immune to such incidents either, and the faults in these cables are harder to locate. For instance, a cable belonging
to a Canadian carrier suffered a cut caused by a boat anchor. The boat crew did not notify anyone and it took the carrier several hours to
locate the break. Submarine cables are also subject to damage caused by erosion and friction with coral reefs. This is what happened in
Puerto Rico, where a disruption lasted more than 146 hours.

Fiber-cable problems must therefore be taken seriously. Some may argue that most networks have backup transmission systems, which
decrease the impact of a cable problem. Although this may sometimes be true, in the case of DWDM, it is often not the case. Moreover, even
if a backup does exist, falling back on the redundant part of the network sometimes requires manual intervention. Finally, the period during
which the traffic rides on the redundant network puts the carrier in a much more vulnerable state and must be reduced to the minimum.

To ensure network reliability and availability, traditional network operators, such as incumbent local-exchange carriers (ILECs), usually rely on
a comprehensive solution for monitoring NEs, such as SONET and DWDM transmitters/receivers, as well as the environmental and power
equipment.

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Some of the ILECs choose not to monitor the fiber cables, because they consider that by monitoring the NEs, it is being done indirectly.
However, monitoring NEs merely ensures the carrier that the information is being transmitted properly and that the communication links are
active and fully working. Traditional operators can also rely on a large, specialized and experienced technical team (although this is changing)
to maintain and operate the network. Although these are not optimal solutions, they are considered satisfactory by some carriers.

The story is somewhat different for dark-fiber providers. To start with, they don’t provide the NEs, so they cannot monitor them or detect
transmission degradations or failures. Moreover, their staff size is also reduced to the minimum, which may delay the reaction time in case of
a problem and will, in turn, increase downtime. This being said, dark-fiber providers are required to ensure the same level of service as the
ILECs. This is especially true since their customers are very often network carriers themselves. The impact of a situation like this can be
disastrous for dark-fiber providers, as they may find themselves having to pay huge penalties to customers or lose them to competitors. In a
market situation where bankruptcy is starting to be more the rule than the exception, this is not good news.

To remain competitive, there are simply no alternatives; dark-fiber providers must offer the same level of quality of service as the ILECs. It’s a
question of survival.

Now the question we are faced with is the following: How do we do this? The answer: by monitoring the fiber using a remote fiber test system
(RFTS), which is really the solution of choice to ensure fiber-network reliability.

RFTS description
As shown in figure 1, an RFTS essentially consists of two main elements:
The remote test unit (RTU), which is at the network-element layer
The element management system (EMS), which combines a test-system controller (TSC) and one or many optical-network
controllers (ONC)

NMS
Network
management

Element
management

EMS
workstation (ONC)
EMS
server (TSC)
Network
element

Fiber Guardian

Optical Guardian

Figure 1 – RFTS architecture

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RTU
The RTU is a modular and autonomous platform that can be used as a stand-alone unit or with its EMS. It provides the following functionalities:
Continuous monitoring
Automatic alarm-forwarding
Remote and local manual testing
Automatic maintenance testing and statistical recording

The RTU is a modular CPU-based shelf that houses test modules such as optical time-domain reflectometers (OTDRs) and optical switches.
An OTDR is an instrument used to measure and characterize the loss and reflections on a fiber link. A typical RTU is used with an OTDR and
an optical switch. The latter is used for monitoring more than one fiber link and making the system cost-effective.

In the course of normal operation, the RTU will sequentially test each fiber link that is connected to its optical switch. During a link test,
the RTU acquires an OTDR trace and compares it to a reference trace that was acquired during the system’s configuration.

While comparing traces, the RTU verifies if a predetermined threshold has been exceeded. There are three levels of thresholds (minor, major,
critical). If a threshold has been exceeded, an alarm is instantly displayed on the RTU’s interface and sent out to a PC, a pager, digital phone,
e-mail account and to the EMS (if present). It is important to note that alarm-forwarding has to be configurable by destination, time and alarm
level. The alarm will indicate the link name, the nature of the problem and the optical distance. Figure 2 shows a reference trace (in red) and
a fiber-break alarm trace (in black).

Figure 2 – OTDR trace

The main benefit of the RTU’s OTDR monitoring capabilities is not only that it will detect breaks, but it will also detect minor degradations
(that can be caused by splice degradation or macrobends), which can affect the signal’s integrity. The RTU is a great tool to enhance your
network availability since it allows:
Quicker fault detection
Reduced fault-location time
Failure prevention

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Two types of monitoring can be used:


Dark (non-lit) fiber—the most popular approach
Live (lit) fiber

According to Telcordia, monitoring one fiber per cable will detect problems 80% of the time. To increase that figure, most operators will
monitor more than one fiber per cable and choose fibers that are located near the cable sheath. In order to maximize the coverage range, the
typical OTDR wavelength used is 1550 nm.

There can be cases where a dark-fiber provider needs to monitor live fiber, sometimes because no dark fiber is available in the access rings,
or sometimes because a customer may request it. To achieve live-fiber monitoring, a different wavelength than the one carrying the traffic is
used (typically 1625nm) and combined using a bidirectional WDM coupler. Filters are also used to prevent the OTDR signal to interfere with
the traffic. Figure 3 shows a typical live-fiber-monitoring scheme.

Site A Site B Site C


λ2
λ1 λ1 + λ2 λ1 λ1 λ1 + λ2
Filter WDM WDM Filter WDM Filter
NE
NE NE
λ2 EDFA
Tx OADM
Etc. Rx

Span 1 Span 2
Legend
λ1: Tx signal (typically 1550
λ:
2 OTDR signal (typically 1625 nm)
NE: Network Element

Figure 3 – Live fiber monitoring

EMS
As previously stated, RTUs can be used as stand-alone units. However, using an EMS does provide additional functionality:
Centralized alarm management—when using the EMS, all the RTUs’ alarms can be viewed on the same interface
Remote configuration
Centralized database for
– Traces
– Alarms (active and history)
– Fiber-network documentation
– Statistics
– Configuration
Geographical information system (GIS) allowing
– Visualization of fiber network and RTUs
– Fault positioning; when an alarm is received, the EMS makes an optical-to-geographical correlation, enabling the user
to see exactly where the fault is located, on a map
Integration into an alarm network management system (NMS)

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The EMS is based on the client-server architecture. It includes a test-system controller (TSC), which is the server, and an optical network
console (ONC), which is the workstation running the client application.

Implementation
An RFTS is typically used in any type of fiber network, especially long-haul and metropolitan networks. For dark-fiber providers, the typical
solution is to monitor one or a few dark fibers in each of the cables.

Before deploying a system, an application-engineering analysis must be performed in order to allow the network carrier to monitor its entire
network at the most cost-effective price. The RTUs are positioned so that they will monitor the most fiber-miles. Typically, they can be installed
at any type of site (i.e., central office, PoP, co-location, etc.) where power and remote connectivity (Ethernet, PSTN or other) is available. Most
of the time, an RTU is not required at every site. Indeed, a fiber span typically has a maximum distance of 100 km, whereas the RTU can
monitor distances in the range of 160 km. Where required, test jumpers are used to connect fiber spans together. Access rings can also be
monitored using that strategy.

Hands off
to another

Regen CPE
POD
OADM

Access ring OADM


Metro ring OADM Access ring ILA

RTU OADM
POP ILA

CPE
CO

POD: Point of demarcation


POP: Point of presence
Long-haul
ILA: In-line amplifier
CO: Central office RTU

CPE: Customer-premise equipment


ILA ILA OADM Regen
OADM: Optical add/drop multiplexer
Regen: Regenerator
To other metro ring
OTDR Monitoring signal
To other metro
ring

Figure 4 – Long-Haul and Metropolitan Network Monitoring Application Example

A network operator may have many systems to monitor, manage and configure. It is imperative that the RFTS integrates well with the systems
already in place. For instance, the dark-fiber provider may want to see all its alarms displayed on a single alarm NMS. To allow that, the RFTS
must be able to forward all its alarms via a Northbound interface using a standard protocol such as SNMP. The NMS can be next to the RFTS
or across the country.

Another need often associated to an RFTS is the capability to document outside-plant equipment (i.e., cables, fibers, patch panels, splices,
etc.). The RFTS must offer a minimum amount of functions that will allow this. When complete cable-and-fiber management capabilities are
required, it is best to use a dedicated professional system, in which case the RFTS can be integrated into that system using a simple interface.

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Conclusion
Fiber-cable breaks and degradations are really one of the main causes of network service disruptions. In order to truly offer a reliable service,
dark-fiber providers, be they utilities, CLECs or others, must make sure to have total control over service disruptions, by using all means
available in order to minimize their occurrence as well as their durations. The best way to achieve this is to use an RFTS, which not only allows
a much quicker reaction time, but also prevents a significant percentage of disruptions.

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Appnote084.2AN © 2005 EXFO Electro-Optical Engineering Inc. All rights reserved. Printed in Canada 05/05