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From data and voice to security and videoconferencing, many of today's IT infrastructure services rely on fiber optics to transmit information faster, farther, and in greater amounts than ever before. The reasons for fiber's popularity are clear: Its bandwidth helps future-proof networks for increased capacity needs; its immunity to electrical interference makes it a great option for security and data-sensitive networks; and its reputation for reliability means worry-free maintenance.
This spells good news for electrical contractors looking to grow their business by capitalizing on new networking opportunities. However, as with any new technology, selecting the right products and determining costs can be daunting.
A birds-eye approach
A solid assessment goes a long way toward perfecting the build-out of a new or existing fiber-optic solution. Installers must evaluate the current needs of the network and then look down the road to how it will be used in the future. Selecting the right type of fiber depends on the application. The cable used to upgrade an existing backbone, for example, may be different from the cable used to connect directly to surveillance cameras. Similarly, connections to multiple service applications, such as physical security, environmental control, and data, affect the fiber strand count. After looking at the immediate applications, installers should also consider upcoming applications and capacity needs. Future bandwidth requirements, transmission distances, applications, and network architecture influence fiber selection just as much as current needs. Therefore, a careful assessment of potential network usage will help avoid the costs of preventable upgrades.
Multimode vs. single-mode
Multimode is typically recommended for applications involving shorter distances. Connections within the data center, for example, are ideal for this type of fiber, because the distance between devices is relativity short. Multimode fiber transmits Gigabit Ethernet up to 550 m. Although it can't go as far as its single-mode sibling, its lower-cost interface makes it an economical solution.
This labor-intensive process has led many contractors to adopt factory-tested. called gigabit interface converters (GBICs). While single-mode fiber costs about the same as multimode. takes up less pathway space. In addition to its far reach. The connector then creates a connection with the pre-polished tip and crimps the fiber into position. Because major network overhauls often require both types of cable. such as security cameras. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) work only with multimode fiber and operate at the 850-nm window. higher-bandwidth OM4 standard on the horizon. . Loss occurs at the connectors when light passes information between the cables. These connectors are quick to terminate and provide consistent performance. OS2 can accommodate greater bandwidths at greater distances — and is expected to make 40G and 100G networks a reality in the near future. including XENPAK and SFP+. Over time. more efficient installation.Multimode cabling is available in several performance levels to support a variety of distances: OM1 applies to a large portion of the installed legacy systems. These connectors offer even lower loss in a smaller form factor and provide higher performance and greater fiber density. the fiber strand is cleaved and fed into the connector. Today. technicians can select the interface that meets the application needs at the best cost. laser works only with single-mode fiber and operates at the 1. OS1 is the traditional single-mode fiber used by telecommunications companies to support communications services. Traditional epoxy connectors require installers to cleave and feed the fiber strand into the connector. Here.310-nm window. or to the network device. which provide slightly better performance against loss. making it an excellent solution for campus and metropolitan networks. cable distance. they have moved to adopt SC connectors. However. contractors have choices when installing connectors. This solution saves installation. some manufacturers have developed a hybrid cable that contains multimode and single-mode fibers under one jacket. preterminated connectors. With a faster. users are embracing the LC connector. technicians are in position to begin evaluating the interface options that drive network performance. which is the most expensive. As data center managers place increasing importance on saving space. Table 1 (click here to see Table 1) provides a detailed comparison of various fiber performance levels.000 (or more). and vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) works with both types of fiber and operates at the 1. secure it with an epoxy adhesive. and easier maintenance. it can't compete with the distances single-mode fiber can accommodate. networks have relied on ST connectors. Network performance Once the cable type and connectors are selected. For most network devices. and speed of the connection. The power of single-mode fiber comes from the high-powered lasers that transmit data at greater distances than the light used with multimode fiber. When selecting interfaces. Once cable type is established. two terms are frequently cited. and OM3 is laser-optimized to support 10G Ethernet up to 300 m. and can accommodate a variety of device applications. Traditionally. The cost of these modular interfaces can range from between $250 to $1. however. knowing which interface to use for the application depends on the fiber type.550-nm window. it's often reserved for backbone connections that don't have the higher-cost network interfaces associated with single-mode fiber. contractors need to be aware of their light sources. Making the connection Connectors keep the information flowing from cable to cable or cable to device. installers can rely on modular Gigabit fiber-optic interfaces. Currently. Table 2 (click here to see Table 2) provides an overview of the most common types of interfaces. These flexible interfaces come in several form factors. Many of today's devices. and can be customized for a variety of applications. When talking about single-mode fiber. networking standards recommend several fiber-optic connectors. and then field polish the connector's tip. although Gigabit interfaces cost less than 10G interfaces. single-mode fiber offers virtually unlimited bandwidth. Although multimode distance capability is growing. and multimode interfaces cost less than single-mode. transmit data across Gigabit and 10G Ethernet protocols that support a variety of optical interfaces. 10G applications may also be supported up to 550 m. OM2 supports Gigabit Ethernet up to 550 m.
requires fewer installation steps. Gigabit and 10G have strict link-loss budgets that require technicians to avoid indoor-to-outdoor transition points. A future with fiber The possibilities for fiber-optic cabling combinations are endless. In this case. fiber offers a promising solution to current networking challenges. and security. and saves labor costs. plenum cable jackets are required. Using armored fiber reduces pathway uses. installers have relied on innerduct to protect the fiber. Similarly. contractors can install fiber with an armored metal jacket that not only protects the cable.Fiber protection A reliable network is one with the appropriate safeguards in place. but when the cable needs to enter a building beyond 50 ft. For example. opportunities will continue to expand for contractors and IT installers. and interfaces are determined by applications. OSP jackets are used for outdoor applications. this can be a time-consuming process that often requires the technician to install the innerduct through the pathway and then pull the fiber through the innerduct. Today. As technology advances with lower-cost fiberoptic interfaces. connectors. PVC cable jackets are suitable for indoor environments. However. but also saves space by allowing more cables to be installed within a single conduit or pathway. Traditionally. Knowing the applications and desired capabilities is the logical first step to determining the necessary supplies and costs of building that “perfect” network. fiber protection is application-specific as well. Environmental conditions are other factors that must be evaluated when selecting protective fiber jackets. For example. With its higher bandwidths. however. While the answers to most protection decisions are obvious. flexibility. These indoor/outdoor cables are available with either a PVC or plenum rating. . The future of fiber holds true the possibility that information will one day travel at speeds only understandable today through the laws of physics. One way to eliminate this transition point is to use a cable jacket with an indoor/outdoor rating. the pathway space can be a concern when upgrading the cabling in an existing facility. it may be wise for a contractor to use a hybrid cable that can accommodate indoor-outdoor applications. Just as cable type. cabling that runs through a plenum space will need to conform to fire codes. complications can arise when installers work with higher-speed technologies. For example. In these cases. installers must transition to an indoor-rated cable in conformance with fire codes.
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