What is it?
For the sake of clarity, let’s start at the very beginning. What is fiber optics? A fiber optic cable is a cable with an incredibly long strand or strands of glass (or plastic) used in communication. These strands tend to be about the width of a hair, or a fiber.
First used to replace telco copper, satellite, and microwave links fiber optics have become the dominant medium and logical choice for nearly every communications system.
The term fiber optics can mean different things to different people based on their profession and usage of the material.
For the most part fiber optic usage can be divided into either Outside Plant (OSP) or Premises Cabling. Outside plant refers to everything that happens with fiber optic cable primarily outside of the building. If it is underground, hanging from poles, runs under water or through conduit then it is usually OSP.
Premises Cabling is just like it sounds, all the fiber optic use that takes place in a building or throughout a campus. Usually this consists of short run cables no more than a few hundred feet.
There is even more differences between the two classifications, including termination points, and types of fibers but this article is merely an introduction.
Why do it?
Presumably you are looking this up online because you are in dire need to splice your fiber optic cable, or see that need coming in your future. Most standard fiber optic cable is provided in five meter lengths, and most people are going to need a variety of lengths, some less than five meters, some much, much greater. Splicing provides a permanent, or semi permanent, connection between separate strands of cable.
Nothing beats actually training in the use and care of fiber optic cable. It is not as complex as it can appear and groups like the Fiber Optic Association, Inc. (http://www.thefoa.org/) offer a list of approved training schools. However, splicing cable is considered a novice level skill and having this knowledge under your belt certainly couldn’t hurt.
Safety first, always.
The glass that will be cut off the ends for the purposes of splicing can be very tiny and sharp. They can easily cut skin and be dangerous if they get in your eye. Due to the nature of fiber optic glass it can also be extremely difficult to flush regardless of what you use so it is imperative that use safety glasses even if you wear regular glasses. It doesn’t take much to have the glass flip over the lens of your prescription glasses and land in your eye.
Some people recommend using a black pad on your work station to help catch debris and I agree. The small particles will show up on the pad and it will provide you with an easy way to collect and properly dispose of the waste material. Don’t eat your lunch near where you are working. Work at a desk or work bench and avoid working near anyplace a breeze, or forced air can disturb your work space. The waste material is no laughing matter, it can and will cut your skin and if you are not careful can follow you or your coworkers around as debris clings to clothes and shoes. Please dispose of all waste, material appropriately.
Keep in Mind
Similar to working with electronics and soldering, there is a zero tolerance for dirt when working with the actual glass of a fiber optic cable. Keep your area clean; avoid working in or around places where dust can be a problem (under a heat vent for example). Be sure you, your space, and your materials are lint free and stay that way as much as possible.
Types of Splices
There are two types of splices; mechanical and fusion.
A mechanical splice is used when you are in a hurry and for one reason or another and you don’t have access to the more expensive splicing equipment. Many of the sleeves used for a mechanical splice allow you to connect/disconnect. This type of splice does have higher rate of loss of efficiency so it is most ideal when it is temporary.
This is a great video for showing a mechanical splice:
As you can see by the video it is pretty straight forward:
Step 1: Strip the cable.
Step 2: Clean the fiber (remember this is a zero dirt tolerance procedure).
Step 3: Cleave the fiber.
Step 4: Modify the splice as needed.
Step 5: Insert stripped fiber.
Repeat for the second cable.
Fusion splicing is the most ideal splice. It is a more permanent splice and is less likely to have any decrease in efficiency as a result of the splice. The down side is that fusion splices require more expensive equipment that you avoid using with the mechanical splice.
An excellent video on performing a fusion splice:
The fusion splice has a few more steps, but is the least time consuming.
Step 1: Strip the first cable.
Step 2: Clean the revealed fiber
Step 3: Place the splice sleeve on one end of the cable.
Step 4: Strip the second cable
Step 5: Using the fiber guides and the handy cleaver, cleave the revealed fibers.
Step 6: Insert the revealed and cleaved fibers into the fusion splicer, check the settings and start the process.
Step 7: Once the splicer is finished slide the sleeve over the splice and place into the oven of the fusion splicer.
Step 8: Test once complete.
This method is more reliable and less likely to suffer any mistakes. The only thing you actually do by hand is strip the cable. A few more steps, but fewer errors occur. Don’t let those tools fool you. There is a learning curve (with the fusion splicer) and an expense when purchasing those tools.
As I said before, nothing surpasses actual training. If you are someone who is capable of being self taught than you can train yourself some of these techniques fairly easily. The first technique, and the easiest, is the mechanical splice. It is easiest primarily because you won’t be spending much on the tools needed.
As you learn more and more about fiber optics I recommend the FOA’s self study program known as FiberU (http://www.fiberu.org/basic/index.html).