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6 Common Misconceptions About Fibre Cable
23 October 2018
Fibre Optic
These days, installers everywhere are upgrading from copper cable to fibre optics to meet bandwidth demands. Whether it is super-fast streaming video content to the business and home or simply to free up over-crowded cable routes, fibre can make sense on many levels. While these companies are realising, and experiencing the benefits, there are still plenty of people in the dark when it comes to fibre optics. Here are some common misconceptions surrounding the use of fibre cables, and the reality:

Misconception: Fibre cables are too expensive
Reality: Fibre cable itself has never been particularly expensive when you consider the vastly superior data speeds and bandwidth compared to copper. It is true that the electronics to convert the optical signal to electrical, often referred to as ‘the optics’ used to be expensive but manufacturing costs have drastically reduced with advanced semiconductor manufacturing.  The cost of the fibre cable itself has been stable or has dropped as well.  Both copper and fibre have their place but cost should not even come into the equation as in most cases just one single mode fibre can potentially replace hundreds of copper links. This is why today the preference in Data Centres is towards topologies that are oriented towards fibre. Chunky bundles of copper cables take up space, blocking airflow and their performance is more susceptible to temperature changes which can be significant. In addition, if there is more than 100m between the transmitting and receiving equipment then copper twisted pair is unlikely to be suitable for anything at gigabit data speeds.  With the added benefits of speed, minimal attenuation, zero EMI, low latency, temperature stability, vastly increased transmission distance and lower power there is usually no choice.

Misconception: Fibre cables are less durable—and prone to breakage
Reality: Old myths don’t die easily and it’s perhaps not surprising that some are of the impression that fibre cables are fragile due to their interior core of ‘glass’ fibre. The truth, however, is that fibre cables are actually quite durable and less prone to damage than one might think.  Fibre cables have a higher pull tension for example and can withstand harsher environmental changes, meaning that it is ideal for oceanic or arctic conditions. In addition the introduction in recent years of bend-insensitive fibres has reduced the potential for high attenuation caused by severe bending or kinking of fibre cables.

Misconception: Fibre cables are dangerous
Reality: In use, fibre cables are actually safer than copper cables since they transmit signals in the form of light instead of electricity.  Care does need to be exercised with any laser light source but we are talking about extremely low power in Datacom. Only a fool would try to look down a lit fibre end! In any case, connectors are always fitted with shutters or dust protection caps and hazard labels.  When terminating fibres it is advisable to dispose of fragments in a sharps bin and take precautions with cleaning materials such as isopropyl alcohol which is flammable. Once installed, fibre cables present a minimal fire hazard and are incapable of conducting electricity which can cause interference.  Where grounding is poor in the case of screened copper cables this can affect the operation of sensitive equipment.  While fire and laceration precautions do need to be taken during the installation stage, once the system is up and running the risks are far less.
Misconception: Fibre is difficult to terminate
Reality: In the early days of fibre termination it was very much hit & miss. Fibre splicers were far less sophisticated requiring manual alignments and consequently a high level of skill. Today, splicers have come on leaps and bounds and the process is relatively automated. If the installer cannot obtain a splicer, mechanical splice joints can be made with relative ease using low-cost tooling. The amount of training required is fairly minimal nowadays and no more difficult than terminating copper. The days of glue & polishing fibre ends, which does require more skill are disappearing and only those who terminate fibres all day long use these methods as they can reduce costs when terminating thousands of ends. As long as safe working practices are followed as mentioned above there is a minimal hazard. Terminating fibre was also a skill that took days of training and practice. Nowadays, there are courses that provide comprehensive training on best practices, essential introductions and more detailed methods of installing fibre cable. Our City & Guilds 3667-02 102/103 and BICSI Cabling Installation Program, IN101 and IN250 courses are perfect examples of these.
Misconception: Fibre Termination tools are expensive
Reality:There are economical solutions available. To terminate fibre you do need tools, and just as with terminating cooper, the correct tools cost money. However, there are lots of options available, all at different price points - from comprehensive toolkits, through to the more reliable and resilient pieces of equipment such as splicers and cleavers. Some distributors, such as ourselves, offer weekly rentals on splicers to help you try before you buy and to help spread the costs.

Misconception: Fibre infrastructures are totally different than copper
Reality:  Copper and fibre infrastructure usually co-exists with the ’backbone’ being fibre in the people space with multiple floors and horizontal links to desks from floor distributor being copper. Fibre to the zone (FTTZ) is becoming an increasingly popular people space architecture offering greater flexibility for the implementation of connected buildings.  Fibre to the desk (FTTD) is equally feasible and a range of wall plates, in-wall components, wall boxes, desk boxes and patch cables are available to facilitate end-to-end fibre. The various parts and pieces are pretty similar in appearance.  Fibre connectivity is a very well-developed marketplace, and there are plenty of solutions available with the layout being very similar to copper infrastructures.  
If you’d like more advice or help with your installation then contact a member of the team today by email or by calling 01403 754233.