FOA Reference Guide To Fiber Optic Projects
For Network Managers and Contractors
The FOA created its Online Reference Guide to provide a more up-to-date and unbiased reference for those seeking information on cabling and fiber optic technology, components, applications and installation. It’s success confirms the assumption that many users prefer the Internet for technical information.
Most information about fiber optics, including the information in the FOA Guide, is written for the technician who designs, installs or tests the network. But many times, if not most of the time, the success of a fiber optic project depends on those overseeing the project. This includes the manager of the organization for whom the network is being built, the planners behind the project, financial managers and particularly the people who supervise and evaluate the installation itself. After the project is done, there must be managers and supervisors who ensure the project runs smoothly, delivering the communications that keep users satisfied.
In this section on fiber optic projects, FOA ties together topics covered in many pages in the online FOA Guide and in chapters in some of our current textbooks, to provide a reference for those who manage the personnel we mention above. Here the focus is on the project from conception to completion; managing the people who design, install and operate it. We provide guidelines for all phases of the project, including enough technical details that managers can understand what technicians are doing and reporting about the project. We even link to the FOA "Jargon" page, a pager about the “language of fiber optics,” that helps everyone speak the same language when discussing fiber optic projects.
Don’t expect this section to provide all the answers; we don’t even know all the questions! Every fiber optic project like yours is different and unique. The communications needs, the geography of the cable plant, local laws, codes and regulations, and even the available technology which is ever changing, will all be unique to your project. Our hope is that we provide sufficient background that you can understand your own project well enough to manage it successfully.
Below we provide links for pages in the FOA Guide that will explain the details. Perhaps you don't need to study all of them at once. If you now what's here you can refer back to it when you need more in depth technical details. But we highly recommend you read this page and the page on Fiber Optic Project Management For Managers before you begin with any fiber project.
What Is Involved In A Fiber Optic Project?
A fiber optic project begins with a need for communications and ends with an installed fiber optic cable plant and an operating network that fills that communications need. Between those two points are a number of stages:
Focus On The Cable Plant
The FOA's expertise in in fiber optics and we will focus on the fiber optic cable plant. What is a "fiber optic cable plant"? It's a term we use all the time in fiber optics to cover the installed fiber optics that can transmit your communications signals. It's permanently installed between the two points which you require communications between. It's what you connect your communications electronics to with patchcords on each end. The cable plant includes all the fiber optic cable between those two points. That cable may be buried underground or installed aerially on utility poles. It may even have segments that run under water - streams, rivers, lakes or oceans. Cables come in a maximum length of about 5km on a spool from the factory, so longer lengths will require splicing cables together. Splicing is also required if points along the route require connections (drops) as well as from end to end. At the ends, the cable plant will be terminated in connectors to allow making connections that can be changed as needed. Hardware is required for every splice and termination to protect the cable plant, splices, terminations and connected equipment, and these may require underground storage in manholes or above ground storage in pedestals, huts or buildings.
Designing and building a cable plant means carefully and completely defining the entire route of the cable plant, where every splice, drop, termination and piece of hardware is to be placed and what components will be used for every bit of the cable plant. It's a big job to design, but it must be done correctly to allow installation to be done according to the needs of the users.
Once finished, the cable plant must be fully documented so it can be operated, maintained and repaired if restoration becomes necessary.
What does it take to have a successful fiber optic project?
When asked this question, we often respond with 4 words: financing, commitment, expertise and patience. Here's what we mean:
The story goes that someone asked Neil Armstrong what he was thinking about while sitting on top of the rocket ready to launch Apollo 11 to the moon. “Every part was made by the lowest bidder,” was his reply.
Fiber optic projects are not necessarily expensive; in fact, fiber has been used so widely because it is the least expensive communications medium in virtually all projects. But like most other projects, it never pays to cut corners. Planning and running the project properly is what saves money, trying to cheapen the project. Not all jobs should go to the lowest bidder, unless they meet all the criteria for a qualified bidder. Likewise, one needs to ensure that when a project starts, there are funds available to complete the job properly, including some extra for unplanned changes or modifications.
Just like having sufficient finances to compete the project, one needs a commitment to finish the job once it is started. Changes of management or changes in governments often lead to reconsidering a project in midstream. There is nothing wrong with making changes based on what learns as the project progresses, but arbitrary changes may jeopardize the project's completion or timetable, or even its usefulness. If the project is under the auspices of a government entity, changes in administration or management that causes changes in a project will invariably make it more expensive and may jeopardize the success of the entire project. Ideally, the personnel who propose, design and plan the network should see it to completion.
Fiber requires expertise and experience. It's obvious the installers need to know what they are doing, but in reality, so must the managers who work for the organization that is contracting for the work. There are many instances of projects where the managers signed off o nthe project when it was incomplete or improperly installed. The only way to properly manage a project is to understand every aspect of it well enough to know if it is being done properly.
Anybody can become a consultant, but do they have relevant experience and have their projects been successful? Are they tied to vendors whose products they recommend? Landscape contractors do not make good fiber installers, as one major company discovered, and contractors with a record of puncturing water mains while directional boring are likely to continue doing the same. The poor workmanship on aerial cables is particularly visible, so much so that FOA has been contacted by authorities asking if there were standards for this type of workmanship.
Planners, designers, contractors and installers should all be trained and certified as well as being experienced with good references. That holds doubly so for consultants. In many places, to be a consultant or cabling contractor means little other than registering as a business and advertising your services. In this section we'll discuss some of the problems we've seen with outside services, including consultants who took contracts, spent time on a project, then told the customer they could not help them with the project but kept the money. We have heard and seen contractors doing shoddy installations, ruining expensive fiber optic cable during pulling and leaving jobs half done but getting paid because the customer knew no better. One contractor gave the customer 144 copies of the same OTDR trace as proof they had completed the job. The manager must know better to prevent problems like this.
From concept to acceptance, a typical OSP fiber project can take 2-5 years and a premises project 1-2 years, depending on the size of the project, the time to properly design it, create project paperwork, get permits, buy components, hire contractors and properly install it. Proper workmanship takes time and is not easily rushed. Saving time generally means cutting corners and that is often the cause of the problems encountered. Take your time, plan, design, select, install, test and document your network properly.
And by the way;...."future proofing" is a myth! Who would have known in 1990 how ubiquitous the Internet would be today? How reliant we could be on smartphones other mobile devices? How many workers would be working remotely or using videoconferencing for meetings? Technology moves too fast and is too disruptive for anyone to make reliable predictions. The IBMer who developed MRP - thei original company organizational software - used to tell everyone, "A forecast is wrong from the moment it is made."
Plan for the future, but assume you will upgrade, change directions, etc. driven by new tech and changes in the world around us.
Fiber Optic Project Timeline
FOA has mainly dealt with technical topics regarding fiber optic projects, but in most of our applications sections like FTTH we also look at project management. In discussing a project with the owners, we have sketched out a general timeline for a project, adding topics and subtopics as they flow in the project itself. The graphic below is what we created.
Note: The timeline is not to scale. Parts of the project can take days or weeks, others may take years!
A fiber optic project can be broken down into four stages - planning, design, installation and operation - with various subtopics like the ones shown below. These stages operate in overlapping time frames and will have different timing depending on the size and complexity of the project plus a number of issues that can occur at various stages.
Project managers are probably more familiar with this timeline as shown in a Gantt Chart like this. You can create a gantt Chart like this using a spreadsheet. Here is more information on Gantt Charts and an FOA spreadsheet you can download.
For some projects, planning is the hardest part. It all begins with the need for communications services, but sometimes even that may not be clear to all interested parties. Then the responsibility for the project needs to be assigned, easier on private projects, harder on public projects and even more difficult on public/private partnerships. Approvals and funding can be real bottlenecks. Bidding and contracting sounds simple, but FOA is now getting calls for help where projects are finding it hard to get bidders because contractors are already so busy.
Compared to planning, the design, installation and operation stages can be easy. They generally start when the hard part has already been done.
Four Important Things To Consider Early In The Project
Below the Time Line, we have added 4 topics in red that should begin early in the planning stage and will continue the whole project. Planning includes project management which continues throughout the project which everyone realizes. The other 3 may not get as much attention as they deserve.
We have seen many projects sidelined by bad public relations, especially those by the public sector like municipal broadband networks. To support the project, the public needs to understand the project, including the features and benefits of the proposed network, especially when incumbent service providers begin well-funded campaigns opposing them. That has been the fate of many proposed networks over the years.
Planning and managing fiber optic projects requires competent staff who must be recruited early in the project. Experience with this kind of project is really important to anticipate issues before they become problems.
One of the biggest problems today is finding workers and contractors to do the actual installation. Fiber optics is in need of a lot more competent workers and it takes time to find them and get them trained. The focus should be on recruitment, setting up training programs and working with potential contractors where these newly-trained recruits can get hired to work under experienced supervisors to continue learning by OJT - on the job training.
About This Guide To Projects
We've broken this guide into smaller topics, roughly covering the progression of work from the conception to the completion of a fiber optic project. We further divide it into categories Basic and Details/Comments, covering the basic information you need to know and more topics that go into more detail, depending on your needs and interests.
The FOA Guide To Projects - Website Links
Each page will open in a new window to keep this index open.
Technical References And Resources
FOA has the world's largest resources for information on fiber optics. Since 1995, we have had access to the world's experts on fiber optics, many of whom are teaching others and certifying them through FOA. Using their expertise, FOA has created these resources for your use. Other than the printed textbooks, all are free.
FOA Online Reference Guide
The FOA Online Guide is nearly 1,000 pages of technical information on all aspects of fiber optics. It's updated continuously to ensure it is up to date and accurate.
FOA publishes its own textbooks in print and on the Kindle electronic format. Available from Amazon and most booksellers. More on FOA Textbooks.
The Fiber Optic Association Fiber To The Home Handbook
A favorite with project managers, it covers the technical and management issues for broadband networks.
Video Lectures And Tutorials
FOA has over 100 lectures, tutorials and demonstration videos on YouTube. More on FOA Videos.
Free Online Training Courses
FOA has been offering online training at our Fiber U web site for over 15 years. Over two dozen courses cover many aspects of fiber optics from the basics to network applications. All the courses are free (with a nominal charge if you want a certificate of completion.)
ANSI/NECA/FOA 301 Fiber Optic Installation Standard
FOA and NECA have created the only standard for fiber optic installation. It defines installation in a "neat and workmanlike manner." Download a free copy here.
Table of Contents: The FOA Reference Guide To Fiber Optics
Disclaimer: This information is provided by The Fiber Optic Association, Inc. as a benefit to those interested in teaching, designing, manufacturing, selling, installing or using fiber optic communications systems or networks. It is intended to be used as an overview and/or basic guidelines and in no way should be considered to be complete or comprehensive. These guidelines are strictly the opinion of the FOA and the reader is expected to use them as a basis for learning, as a reference and for creating their own documentation, project specifications, etc. Those working with fiber optics in the classroom, laboratory or field should follow all safety rules carefully. The FOA assumes no liability for the use of any of this material.
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