Project Management (For Managers)
In the FOA, as
part of the fiber optic industry and especially in our
role as educators, most of our focus has been training
installers of fiber optic cable plants and networks in
fiber optics. But what about the people for whom they work
or build the networks? What do network managers,
project managers, supervisors, network owners, IT
personnel, facilities managers, network designers,
estimators, inspectors, etc. need to know about fiber
optics to ensure the success of their project?
To define a "project," there is an FOA
Guide page on fiber optic projects.
The responsibility for the success or failure of any
project ultimately lies with the project manager. We've
seen quite a few instances of fiber optic project problems
caused by improper management and many of the help calls
we get at FOA indicate the manager's lack of knowledge of
fiber optics. Some of the problems they call us about 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 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 who were digging up and breaking
underground utilities daily.
These kinds of problems can be cured easily if the
managers have some basic knowledge of fiber optics. They
do not need a typical FOA fiber optic training course
because those courses are based on KSAs – the knowledge
skills and abilities needed by installers. What they need
is just a basic understanding of fiber optic network
design, installation, testing and operation.
Who Is a "Manager"?
The manager may be the supervisor of a crew of installers
building the network, of course, or the manager of a
contracting company. There is the communications or IT
manager who works for the owner of the network, specifies
the communications requirements and has responsibility for
the operation of the network after construction. The
buildings or facilities manager overseeing the locations
where the project is installed may be involved in its
installation, operation and maintenance. In some cases, it
would include the inspector overseeing the construction
and approving it. In this category, we include anyone who
is involved with the network and has responsibilities that
include the fiber optic network itself.
Here at the FOA, we get lot of calls from those kinds of
people asking questions that show they need to know (and
want to know) more - at least enough to make intelligent
decisions regarding the project that affect its success.
This article will cover what we think the bosses need to
know based on what they have asked us.
The Basics - What Does A Manager Need To Know?
Fiber optic communications is quite simple. Instead of
sending signals as pulses of electricity or radio waves,
fiber optics uses pulses of light transmitted down a
hair-thin ultra-pure strand of glass. Cables holding tens,
hundreds or even thousands of fibers can be run
underground, aerially on poles or even under water.
Construction of a fiber optic cable plant is similar to
that of any other cable and there are thousands of trained
and FOA-certified techs available to build fiber optic
Managers need to know the basics, the jargon, and how
to communicate with suppliers, contractors and installers.
Forget the physics and optics - not even installers need
to know the technology that makes fiber optic
communications possible. Managers do need to learn about
fiber optic components like the types of fibers
(singlemode or multimode) used in various networks to
ensure the proper ones have been chosen for the
installation. We prevented a manager recently from
ordering tens of miles of outside plant cable with the
wrong fiber - multimode not singlemode. Hopefully a sales
person, distributor or manufacturer would have questioned
his choice but if not, he would be stuck with a large
amount of virtually worthless cable.
They should also learn about cables and their
applications. We've seen specs for direct burial armored
cables that were to be pulled through conduit and
non-armored cable designed into a project for direct
burial. We've seen indoor cable specified for outdoor
installation and outdoor cable specified for premises
installation. You must know what is the proper cable
choice for the installation.
Fiber optic connector compatibility is another important
issue. Twice recently I have been asked by managers about
the difference between PC (physical contact) and APC
(angled physical contact) connectors and whether they are
compatible. They certainly are not and may be damaged by
mating to the wrong type. But try to find that advice on a
manufacturer's or distributor's website - they expect
everyone to know that already.
Those can be expensive mistakes! A few minutes learning
the basics from books or online at Fiber U or the FOA
website can answer those questions and prevent some big
problems. Or just call us at the FOA – that's what many
Don't believe the classic "myths of fiber optics." I once
jokingly threatened physical harm to the new editor of one
magazine I write for if he ever published another article
that said "fiber optics is fragile because it's made of
glass, is much more expensive than copper cables and is
very hard to install."
Let's kill off those myths once and for all. The pure
glass in optical fiber is many times stronger than steel
and fiber optic cable is much more flexible than coax or
twisted pair copper cable. Even 30 years ago, fiber had
the bandwidth and distance advantages that made
communications over fiber optics cost only s few percent
as much as over copper or microwave radio. Today we can
put almost one million times more communications over
fiber than back then. And finally, there are more than
100,000 skilled installers who have installed millions of
miles of fiber and will attest to the fact that it's just
another skill to learn.
To learn about the basics of fiber optics, start with Fiber
Optic Jargon-Illustrated - learn to speak
the language of fiber optics. Consider
getting a copy of our basic fiber optics or outside plant
fiber optics textbooks as a reference for your bookshelf.
It is at the design stage that the manager has the most
important role in the success of a fiber optic project.
This is not a time to delegate without oversight. The
manager must be able to evaluate options presented and
make decisions based on the input of many others.
If someone who works for you is designing a fiber optic
network, they need to know whether it provides the
communications capacity you need for today and over its
projected lifetime. Are there enough fibers for spares and
future expansion? Can the network support drops to new
user locations? Has the network been designed optimally
for both performance and cost? Are all the components
chosen appropriate for the network. Is the network secure
and are you prepared to restore outages? One good test is
to create a scope of work (SOW) and send out a request for
proposal (RFP) to some experienced contractors for
FOA has a complete textbook on fiber optic network design
but the basics are summarized on this
page in our FOA Guide online.
Construction And Installation
Fiber optic cable plants can be installed outside (called
"OSP" for outside plant) or indoors (called "premises").
The OSP cable plant can be installed underground, aerial
or under water. All have various techniques that can be
chosen depending on the geography of the route or local
requirements, for instance that all cables must be placed
underground. Premises cabling is often a mix of fiber
optics and copper cabling. It will be covered by codes
like the NEC to ensure safety for those inside the
The FOA Guide has a section on Construction
and another on Installation.
How do you evaluate contractors? The top of the list of
requirements is experience in similar jobs backed by great
references. Are their designers, managers and installers
properly trained and certified? How much personnel
turnover do they have? What's their plan for on-the-job
training (OJT) for new recruits? Are they fully equipped
for the job? What other jobs are they qualified for?
Electrical construction and fiber optics are often done by
the same contractor - although by different divisions of
the same company - and may yield more efficient
construction when electrical services are required in
If the contractor is chosen in a bid process, don't
blindly choose the lowest bidder. Include in the RFQ
(request for quotation) requirements for the bidders to
include lots of information about the company that will
allow evaluation of their ability to complete the job
properly, including company history, personnel, structure,
worker credentials, experience and of course references.
We've seen jobs go to the lowest bidder where the
contractor installed thousands of splices and connectors
improperly, submitted erroneous test data, got paid and
disappeared, leaving the network owner holding the bag. In
another case of improper installation, the contractor went
bankrupt when forced to redo the job correctly.
a fiber optic contractor.
Evaluating The Quality Of An Installation
If the contract covers both electronic equipment and fiber
optic cable plant, the number one concern is if the
communications system works as planned. Under any
circumstances, the quality of the fiber optic cable plant
needs to be evaluated independently. Every step of
the way should be documented and inspected to ensure that
the network was installed in a "neat and workmanlike
installation needs to be completely tested to confirm it
meets the design goals and documentation of the test
results presented along with the other project
Fiber optic testing is a complex process that requires a
trained and experienced tech to perform properly.
Here is a summary
of fiber optic testing procedures from the FOA
Too many networks have inadequate documentation,
insufficient to evaluate the installation, allow moves,
adds and changes (MACs) or restoration in an emergency.
Many managers and installers think the documentation is
created after the network is built, but that's completely
wrong. Network documentation starts when the idea of the
network is conceived, evolves through the design, creation
of the scope of work (SOW), RFP and RFQ (request for
quote), installation and testing. Documentation should be
one of the legal requirements of the contract for network
installation. The installer should get the final payment
only after they submit all the documentation required, not
Documentation must include the route of the cable plant
and the type of installation (aerial, underground, etc.)
and location of every component of the fiber optic
cable plant including cables, splices, terminations,
pedestals, manholes/handholes, etc. The documentation must
include the path of every cable, every fiber in the cable
(with color codes) and the test results from testing each
fiber. If that sounds like a lot of work and a lot of
data, it is, but that's what's necessary to determine what
has been installed and if it was installed according to
the plans. That data will be invaluable when changes need
to be made to the cable plant or restoration must be done
in event of an break.
There are software aids for documentation. Geographic
information systems (GIS) are now widely used for for both
aerial and underground utility
and can be used to also locate the fiber optic cable
plant. Other software for documenting the cable plant are
available or one can create their own with database or
spreadsheet programs. For premises cabling, software
similar to that used for designing electrical systems are
readily available and may be useful for some OSP
applications. They offer the advantage of helping with
Here is some more
information on project paperwork from the FOA Guide.
When do you know the cable plant installation is
are the "deliverables."
Operating A Fiber Optic Network
Everyone who converts to fiber learns fast that fiber
needs virtually no maintenance. Fiber should be installed,
tested, locked up and forgotten unless you need to modify
the network or repair damage. Most damage to the network
is caused by poorly trained techs working with cables they
don't understand. Another major problem is damage outside
your control - underground cables suffering what we in the
industry call "backhoe fade," or for aerial cables what a
utility out West referred to as "target practice".
Like any other problem, restoring a fiber optic network
failure is easier if you plan ahead. If you have damage,
the most valuable tool you have for restoration is all the
documentation on the network. With that you know exactly
where the cable plant is installed and troubleshooting
test results can be compared to the fibers when installed.
Leftover components like spools of cable, splice closures
or other hardware should be kept, stored with the
documentation for use in restoration. And, of course, you
need trained crews on 24/7 call, who have the skills to
track down problem and fix them. If you don't have your
own personnel who can do this, have a contract with
someone who can and will respond quickly.
is some more information
on cable plant restoration from the FOA Guide.
Getting Up To Speed
How does a manager learn all this? You can learn by
experience, of course, although that's often a painful way
to learn. If your personnel are being trained, take a
course with them. If you want to learn on your own, there
is plenty of information on the FOA
website and free self-study programs at Fiber
U that can help you understand fiber optic project
Optic Jargon-Illustrated - learn to speak the
language of fiber optics.
of Contents: The FOA Reference Guide To Fiber Optics