Fiber optic components, cable plants and the telecommunication systems that use them can be complex. They are comprised of fiber, connectors, splices, LED lights, laser sources, detectors and receivers—all forming an inter-connected tapestry of technology, each dependent on the next to function properly.
When one of the elements fails—when light escapes from one component—failure of the entire system can follow. A single element failure can wreak havoc on even the most well-thought-out network, as well as the buildings, businesses and organizations that network supports. This is why having the right optical testing equipment is so important for efficiently and effectively troubleshooting fiber optics.
Tools for Troubleshooting Fiber Optics
Here's a look at some of the essential tools you'll need when inspecting fiber optic cable for the myriad causes of system failure, including dust, oils and water blocking gel which can cause end-face contamination; scratches, pits, cracks and chips that can cause poor termination; or mated contamination and other issues that can arise:
The Optical Inspection Microscope—an optical inspection microscope with a 100 by 200 video scope should show you everything you need to see.
The Source and Power Meter—knowing with precision where the power is coming from—if it’s coming at all—is critical to troubleshooting fiber optics.
Reference Test Cables—make sure your test cables are compatible with the cables you’ll be testing, and don’t forget mating adaptors.
Fiber Tracer or Visual Fault Locator—either of these tools will allow you to visually check the continuity of the current and ensure that each of the connections is correct.
Cleaning Materials—Be sure to have a sufficient supply of dry cleaning kits, lint-free wipes and pure alcohol so you can clean and dry any components that have become dirty.
The ODTR* with Launch and Receive Cables—these are especially useful for jobs that require you to work outdoors or to test long cables (more than 250 meters/800 feet) or cable plants with splices.
These tools allow for basic inspection and cleaning, troubleshooting, verification, certification and even advanced OTDR analysis, all of which is achieved through visual tracing, visual fault location, inspection by microscope and the reversal of flow.
For more on optical test equipment, be sure to check out MATsolutions' full line of optical test equipment.
* ODTR: Optical time-domain reflectometer - an optoelectronic instrument used to characterize an optical fiber.
Originally published August 2014; Updated and republished August 2015