FIBEROPTICS BY JIM HAYES
Who am I talking about? It could
be the manager of a contracting company whose personnel has designed and
installed a fiber optic network or the
company’s field supervisors. It could be
a contract IT or communications manager at a customer facility. Often, it’s a
buildings or facilities manager to whom
the responsibility for the cable plant has
been delegated. Sometimes, it’s even the
higher-ups in an organization.
Some of the problems we receive at
the FOA are amazing. An IT manager for
a large metropolitan area found that the
cable plant he had installed didn’t work
because it had 4,000 bad connectors.
Another sent us optical time-domain
reflectometer (OTDR) traces submitted by his contractor for documentation
that showed the cables were too short to
test with an OTDR. In one big project,
contractors subcontracted to firms that
had no fiber experience but still were
digging up and breaking underground
These kinds of problems can be
solved if the managers have some basic
knowledge of fiber optics in several
Let’s start with design. Last month, I
discussed what was involved in designing
a fiber optic project; that article should
be copied and sent to every manager. It
provides a good overview of what a fiber
optic cabling project entails. The manager
needs to know enough to decide whether
the design will meet his or her communications needs, both today and in the future.
The choices of components are
potential problems for the uninitiated.
Managers need to learn enough about
fiber optic components used in various
networks to ensure the proper ones have
been chosen for the installation.
Cables are a big potential problem.
Recently, we prevented a manager from
ordering hundreds of miles of outside
plant cable with the wrong fiber—
multimode, not single-mode. We’ve prevented
the purchase of outside plant cable for
premises applications and vice versa.
We have also talked managers out of
using problematic connectors, something they would have known if they had
some basic training. Another manager
did not know that UPC and APC fiber
optic connectors were incompatible.
Hopefully someone—a salesperson,
distributor, manufacturer or contractor—
would have questioned these choices,
but, if not, the customer would be stuck
with a large amount of virtually worthless cable plant.
Another problem that managers face
is choosing contractors and consultants.
We’re helping a large homeowners’ association that had been working with a
consultant to design a fiber optic network
for more than 1,000 homes. After months
of work and considerable expenditure, the
consultant was unable to handle the project. We have also seen contractors who
were probably really landscapers hired
to do trenching with disastrous results.
Managers should be able to evaluate
most of these companies based on basic
business practices, experience and refer-
ences, plus proper certifications for
technical personnel. However, unfamil-
iarity with the technical issues of fiber
optics projects can cause problems with
contractors and consultants.
How can a manager evaluate the
quality of an installation without understanding the technology? The whole
idea of the NECA/FOA 301 fiber optic
installation standard was to define
installation in a “neat and workmanlike
manner,” but without basic knowledge
of fiber optics, how do you judge that?
How do you evaluate test results from
the installation or whether documentation is complete?
How about operation of the network
once it’s complete? We’ve seen managers uncomfortable with the idea that
fiber requires no maintenance. They
are incredulous when we tell them that
any attempt at maintenance is likely to
cause more problems than uncover them.
But that’s what those of us with years of
Cabling for project managers
experience in fiber optics know to be the
case—build it right and leave it alone.
How should a manager get trained?
We know they are overworked and have
little spare time for training. The FOA’s
simple solution is Fiber U ( www.fiberu.
org), our free online training website. We
have a quick introduction to fiber optics
that’s perfect for managers and a basic
fiber course they can use for learning
more details. Of course, there also are
other online training platforms. In the
future, I’ll talk more about training.
Knowledge Is Power
I THINK MOST PEOPLE WOULD AGREE the responsibility for a project’s success
or failure ultimately lies with the project manager. I’ve seen quite a few instances
of project problems caused by poor management, and many of the help calls we
get at the Fiber Optics Association (FOA) indicate the manager’s lack of fiber
HAYES is a VDV writer and educator and the president of the Fiber Optic Association. Find
him at www. JimHayes.com. I S T