ISE Columnist Don McCarty, OSP Expert

Give us your best guess: What is the life of fiber?

July 1, 2017
I received an email from Glen Copeland, who is a Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD) and the Principal Engineer for a large Utility in Central Washington State. The Utility has […]

I received an email from Glen Copeland, who is a Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD) and the Principal Engineer for a large Utility in Central Washington State. The Utility has built a fiber optic network that extends to most of their county, providing residents with broadband access speeds up to 1 Gbps.

As a utility provider, their main business is to provide power to their customers. Their electric rates are among the lowest in the nation, while their customer service standards are among the highest. With a focus on the customer, their goal is simple: safely provide utility services that enhance the economy and quality of life in their county.

Glen posed questions on the life of fiber that I do not have the answer to. Nevertheless, I felt his concerns are both interesting and important. You fiber gurus may have the answer, and we would like you to respond. Below are Glen’s questions and comments.

I’m a big fan of ISE magazine, and before that OSP magazine. I’ve followed your column with interest. Knowing we both come from similar backgrounds in the industry, I feel almost foolish asking this advice of you, but quite frankly I cannot find a definitive answer to help my dilemma.

Here at the communications division of our utility we have an extensive fiber optic cable plant that has been built upon throughout the years, and we’ve had some issues that were caused either from typical backhoe damage or sometimes the shotgun blast into it or an errant squirrel chewed through the aerial cable jacket. These have all been "fixable" events, albeit not without some measure of associated downtime.

What concerns us lately is the hidden force that creeps up on us all, that being TIME. We have experts who have schooling and credentials to help us understand the complexities of how the fiber optic cable should perform under existing conditions, and we have highly skilled craftsmen with years of training and experience providing the Utility with exceptional system measurement characteristics — the envy of any industry. What we do not have is a specific timeline forecast of what the industry states are either performance lifetime statistics or guaranteed lifetime such as has been in the case of Commercial Building Cabling Systems of the past.

Granted, there are many PDFs on the web, and opinions that say the glass will provide acceptable transmission characteristics for a "Millennia", but the cable — that is a different story. I know this because I worked at a large fiber optics corporation in the 1990s, and some of the accelerated testing that we did on different polymers reacted differently to different environments, such as sunlight/heat/UV light, water penetration, and chemical exposure.

What we would all like to know is:
A. What are the warning signs? Should a typical sample be sent for inspection, and if so who does such a thing? And how can we know it will be a reliable answer?
B. What/where are the most stress-prone areas of a cable to expect failure (e.g., the anchor, mid-span point, bends, etc.).

This also applies to exploring ancillary cable plant equipment such as splice cases, drop or breakout systems, etc.

Glen M. Copeland, RCDD

Thanks, Glen.

I am looking forward to comments from our readers. As I stated in the beginning of this column: I am a neophyte when it comes to fiber but I know a great deal when it comes to cables, especially those that have to face a harsh environment. The cables protect the copper conductors and the fiber optic conductors. Both are affected by the elements.

Glen and I look forward to readers’ comments that will give us some idea of the life of fiber.

Here is Glen’s contact information:
Glen M. Copeland, RCDD Principal Engineer, Network Design & Planning
Email: [email protected]

Signing off
Don’t forget to look for Vernon May’s article, "Welcome Back to Ruburbia", on page 60 of this issue. It is the follow-up to a 10-month study into how 2 companies are dealing with the implications and expectations of prior suburbanites moving into rural North America. Vernon is a frequent contributor to my column, and I think you will enjoy reading this last of a 2-part series. As always, thank you for your loyal readership. I enjoy learning from you as much as providing thoughts and tips to you. I hope you are planning ahead to attend ISE EXPO 2017, September 12-14, in Orlando. I know I can’t wait for this bizcation! See you there!

About the Author

Don McCarty

Don McCarty is the OSP EXPERT columnist for ISE magazine, discussing the issues around provisioning, testing, and maintaining copper for all services from POTs to IPTV. Don is also president of and the lead trainer for McCarty Products, a technical training and products company training field technicians, cable maintenance, installation repair, and Central Office technicians and managers. For more information, email [email protected] or visit