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Dirty Connections and Network Problems

What do flossing your teeth, changing your car’s oil, and cleaning your fiber optic network connections have in common?  We know how important it is to do these tasks — but often don’t follow through until something goes wrong! Unfortunately, one of our customers recently learned first-hand just how important this can be.

They were experiencing poor performance throughout their network and called us for help and training. Our first step was to take them into the classroom to strengthen their knowledge regarding fiber optic testing and connector cleaning. Then, we shifted to on-the-job training on their actual network. We reviewed their network layout and existing test reports. Their OTDR data showed significant losses at connection points as well as additional losses at several splicing locations.

Connection point losses are often the result of poor cleaning practices, so we took a look at their current procedures and inspected numerous connectors. We determined that while they were adequately cleaning the connectors at the cable assembly ends, they were not cleaning the connector ports in their patch panels or electronics. They were under the mistaken impression that a prebuilt panel that arrived in a bag from the factory would be clean. Dust and debris can easily get into these connection points and optical ports, even when the panel is carefully packaged. We used cleaners made specifically for fiber optics (one-click™ cleaners, in this case) to reach in and clean the SC and LC terminations in the panels and equipment.

We then found that the losses at the splice locations were caused by bends in the fiber, from both exceeding the bend radius specifications and improper usage of tie wraps. This is an easy repair if you have adequate access but, in this case, the splices were in hard-to-reach locations. With a little work, we accessed the splice trays and made the necessary corrections to relieve the stresses caused by the improper routing of the fiber cables.

Overall, the cleaning and fiber routing adjustments that were made resulted in a significant improvement in their loss budget, removing up to 7dB of loss in the affected links. Best of all, our customer learned a valuable lesson: the importance of proper installation, cleaning, and inspection practices