Best Practices When Using Fibre Optic Infrastructure

22 February 2018

Fibre Optic Best Practices

Due to optical fibres offering enormous benefits over copper cabling, we’re seeing a rapid increase in optical fibre being installed within organisations. Commonly found providing the backbone to the infrastructure and providing the network connectivity to the rest of the network it is vital it is functional at all times.

Optical Fibre is a very susceptible product and to ensure you get the best out of your installation; we’ve laid out of best practices when handling optical fibre.

Contamination is the Number 1 Source of Issues in an Optical Network

What are the Risks to Fibre Optic Infrastructure?

In many networks, fibre optic cabling is used to interconnect remote cabinets that provide network connectivity to potentially thousands of users. Any issue can cause these users to face serious problems, from slow network performance to complete disconnection from the rest of the network.

Because of this, it is vital that the fibre optic infrastructure is handled correctly, utilising the best practices at all times.

To enable the infrastructure to operate, the connections between patch leads and the fibre link have to be of exceptionally low loss. Any dirt, pitting or chipping to the fibre faces can lead to issues costing your organisation thousands in lost revenue.

To aid you in avoiding these issues, we’ve summarised how they’re caused and how to combat them.

What Damage Can Impact a Fibre Optic Infrastructure

Dirt and Dust

Dirt and dust is the most common type of ‘damage’ to impact a fibre optic infrastructure – this is because it is so easy to accumulate. Server and Communications rooms are notoriously dusty; this dust can quickly be moved around the room by the air conditioning system, and find itself on patch leads and connectors.

However, not all dirt and dust accumulates directly on the fibre face; many believe that the cap shipped with the fibre lead is a safe haven. However, the truth is quite to the contrary, the protective cap does not aid against the accumulation of dust, and they are often found to be contaminated with dust. The protective cap is merely there to protect the end face from accumulating scratches during shipping.

When considering single-mode fibre, the core is only 9µm in diameter; even an average sized dust particle can be around 5µm in size, causing over half of the core to be obstructed. This is why it is more vital than ever, that when working with a single mode infrastructure to apply best handling and cleaning practices.

Fibre optic patch leads that are left exposed can cause the ferrule, cladding and even the fibre core to build up with dust and dirt progressively. Every insertion of this connector aids this contamination in migrating from the ferrule or cladding to the fibre optic core. The contamination then firmly sits between the patch cord and the installed fibre causing significant back reflection and insertion loss, however, these issues although are enough to bring your network to a halt – Are also enough to cause permanent damage to your equipment, or the fibre faces such as scratching and pitting.

Scratches and Pitting on Fibre Optic Cabling

Scratches and pitting are a common sight for our engineers. However, this damage drastically reduces the performance of the optical fibre link.

It can be caused by a wide variety of issues. However, we find it is usually caused by the lack of or improper cleaning.

Any time the fibre end-face contracts dirt and dust, there is a potential for scratches and pitting to be caused, by merely mating this end face, the mating force exhibited risks pushing the dirt particles into the end-face, causing permanent pitting and scratching.

How to Prevent Damage and Contamination

Most damage to fibre optic cabling is caused by dirt and dust, whether this is by an obstruction blocking the signal or pitting and scratches being induced by the improper removal of these contaminants. Therefore the best prevention is to always inspect before connection. Most fibre connectors will exhibit some dirt, should this be present, progress to the cleaning stage.

Cleaning the Fibre Faces

You should always use proper cleaning equipment however the technique is just as important.

Use a dry-wipe to remove contamination, should contamination still be present, progress to a solvent based cleaner such as IPA. Once you’ve cleaned your fibre face after using a solvent based cleanser, it’s important to finish with a dry-wipe to remove any excess cleaning agent.

There are many varied fibre optic cleaning components on the market, from complete fibre optic cleaning kits to one click cleaners. Both products offering different uses and advantages. Should you need some guidance on what you feel best suits your needs, why not speak with one of our advisors?

Fibre Optic Cleaning Key Points

It’s important to remember the principles of cleaning prior to undertaking any fibre optic maintenance.

  • Never let your hands come in to contact with the fibre optic ferrule, cladding or core, oil will transfer from your hands to this which will undo all your hard work.
  • Don’t touch the ‘clean’ area of your cleaning fabric, for example your lint-free cloth.
  • Always keep protective caps for fibre connectors, however also ensure these are contained within an air sealed bag.
  • Inspect Prior to Connect – Inspect, Clean, Inspect, Connect.

Why You Need to Keep Your Fibre Infrastructure Clean

In conclusion, there are a lot of contaminants out there that can bring your fibre infrastructure to a standstill.

And with damage being very easy to inflict yet costly to remove we feel it’s best to adhere to the best practices.

If your infrastructure is ageing, or perhaps just hasn’t been cleaned (maybe ever) it could be holding back your entire infrastructure’s capabilities.

Get in touch on 01604 422722 and speak with one of our advisors for tailored advice today.