The need for speed has Tony Baca’s customers clamoring for the latest innovations in fiber optics technology. It’s a good thing that Baca, operations manager for Baca Electric and Telecommunications in Riverside, Calif., is savvy in the skills that more of his clients now want: long-distance cable runs that offer a quality signal and high speed.
To best serve his clients, Baca obtained professional training in working with connectorized cables and fusion splicing — key trade skills in the craft of fiber optics installations.
Why Fiber Optics?
Bigger bandwidth is the No. 1 reason companies and residential clients choose fiber optics. Made from thin strands of glass, the cables efficiently carry a large amount of data versus traditional copper cabling. If installed properly, they transmit cleaner, sharper signals through light-pulse technology that converts into electrical signals. Because the cables are made from glass versus metal, they do not conduct electricity, which minimizes interference from outside appliances and power sources.
Interlinked security systems are one of the biggest reasons companies want to make the switch to fiber optics. Businesses choose fiber optics if they want to physically connect computer networks from one building to another.
“This way, they can keep the same speed they would have with copper cables but link to more computers,” Baca says. Traditional cables have a maximum run limit of 250 feet, where as multimode fiber optics can stretch 5,000 feet.
On the residential side, installation is limited to customers who want to integrate their audio, visual and computer equipment all on one system. Installation processes vary.
“A lot of the fiber optics we install to the home are on the outside of the house; a lot of times it goes to a node at the end of the street, and that’s where it transfers from copper cable to fiber optic,” Baca says.
Whether you work with commercial or residential clients, take training courses to learn best practice installation techniques, Baca recommends. The main difference between installing fiber optics versus traditional telecommunications technology is the splicing technique, which must be learned through course training, he says.
“There are two different methods you can use — the mechanical or the fusion splice,” Baca says.
The cheaper, less polished method of mechanical splicing involves cleaving two small strands of glass and aligning them back together with a gel to create a longer cable run. “But the two ends have to be aligned perfectly, and if it’s not done right, you could lose light transmission, which results in signal interference,” Baca says.
Instead, he recommends getting trained in fusion splicing technology, which is done through a device that automatically aligns the glass and sends a high voltage arc of heat to meld the two ends of cable together. The technique is the preferred method of splicing, especially given the delicate nature of the cables themselves.
“When you are working with fiber optics, you have to be very careful when handling them — you can’t kink it any way,” Baca says. “In the case of areas like government applications, you have to actually show how many pounds you are putting on the pull to make sure you don’t go over a set pressure to protect the cable.”
Fiber Instrument Sales (FIS) in Oriskany, N.Y., offers intensive two-day training sessions that start with basic fiber optic theory and extend basic connectorization, mechanical and fusion splicing, and proper fiber optic testing, including operation of power meters, light sources and optical time domain reflectometers (OTDRs).
Becky Wood, training coordinator with FIS, explains that instructors travel to individual cities so contractors don’t have to journey to the company hub on the East Coast.
“We’ll go to an area of the country and set up a training location for several days,” she says. “The main certification course is two days, and it’s completely hands on.”
Baca says the certification also schooled him in working with connectorized cables — which are used in linking long stretches of cables together — and has kept him up to speed on the latest in fiber optics advancements.
“There are so many different types of new connectors and cables,” he says. “It’s best to keep up to speed as best as you can.”
For more information on fiber optics certification and training courses, visit FIS University.
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