Fibre-optics professionals should be simplifying the classification of fibre-optics, particularly in the face of competition from copper products. This new strategy from the Fibre Optic Association is intended to create a de facto standard for the industry and to clear up areas of uncertainty.
The FOA is encouraging the adoption of a new nomenclature for fibre-optic cabling systems based on international standards in an effort to simplify the specification of fibre-optic cabling systems and assure users that fibre offers equal if not more standardisation than UTP copper. For years, users have specified a UTP cabling system by simply saying "Cat 5." Now they can specify an "OM3" fibre-optic system consisting of laser-optimised 50/125 micron fibre with LC connectors.
The FOA is encouraging its 23,000+ CFOT certified fibre-optic technicians, 200-plus approved training schools and hundreds of certified instructors to adopt this naming convention to help create a "de facto" standard in the industry.
In reality, fibre has always been a much more "standardised" product than category-rated UTP cabling. "One optical fibre premises network type was a de facto standard for almost 20 years, in a period which copper went through up to nine generations of technologies, including six generations of category-rated UTP," notes Jim Hayes, President of The Fibre-Optic Association Inc (FOA), the professional society of fibre-optics. "From the mid-1980s to just recently, one multimode fibre, 62.5/125 micron, so-called "FDDI" fibre, named for the first all-fibre network developed in the 1980s, generally terminated with ST connectors, was used for most premises networks. The superior performance of this fibre cabling allowed it to be used unchanged for almost two decades while copper networks progressed from coax to UPT categories 3, 4, 5, 5e, 6 and 6A to keep up with rising network speeds."
With the advent of 1-10 GB networks and research currently being done on 40-100 Gb networks, fibre manufacturers now offer laser-optimised 50/125 micron fibres with higher performance, graded according to international standards as "OM3" and "OM2" depending on information carrying capacity. Today, most users consider OM3 (laser optimised) fibre the ideal choice for today and the future, and many are using the new smaller LC connector to differentiate new networks from older types.
Fibre, in the FOA's opinion, is recognised as the performance leader and users are becoming more aware of its cost-effectiveness. Rising copper costs, high-speed copper transceiver complexity and high power consumption make fibre look more attractive to many users. Adopting a standard name like "OM3" to describe the fibre cabling can help users understand that fibre is no more complicated than copper.
The choice of cable types in fibre-optic cabling is a big advantage to users, unlike category-rated UTP which is only available in 4-pair configurations. Since fibre-cabling options allow optimal component choices to fit cables in limited spaces, an OM3 cable system can be configured with tens or hundreds of links in one small cable, comparable in size to one Cat 6A cable, saving cost, space and reducing combustibles and thereby fire risk. Even indoor/outdoor runs are easily done with simple fibre-optic cable options.
Using the same naming convention, 62.5/125 fibre becomes an OM1 cable system and conventional 50/125 fibre becomes an OM2 cable system. Much of the use of these two types of cabling is in legacy systems, while OM3 is now the cabling system of choice.
The FOA believes that adopting this simple cabling nomenclature will help users understand the simplicity of fibre and is encouraging its adoption by members, schools and instructors, as well as manufacturers and users. An OM3 cabling specification is now available from the FOA.
* The Fiber Optic Association Inc is a non-profit educational organisation chartered to promote fibre-optics through education, certification and standards. Over 170 FOA-approved schools around the world have certified more than 22,000 fibre-optic technicians. The FOA offers free online introductory fibre-optic programmes for everyone and training for instructors at FOA-approved schools.