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Saving a fiber optic cable before it breaks

Randy Anderson - Nov 27, 2018 10:00:00 AM

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There are myriad stories where fiber optic cables are broken and resources are marshaled to find the location of the break and fix the fiber.  In the United States over a 9-month period monitoring a Google Alerts feed, there were over 120 reported fiber optic cable breaks. Since most breaks never get reported it can be assumed that this is only a small fraction.

I’ve written about the importance of documenting the fiber optic network in order to make it faster to repair broken fibers (Where's The Fault: My Introduction to "WTF").  But, what if a prospective break could be found before a fracture actually occurred?  If a fiber in distress can be discovered before damage is done resources and reputation can be saved.  That was the case with a Singapore-based communication service provider.

This service provider knows the importance of monitoring the network, especially with all of the construction in Singapore and surrounding areas where their network exists.  They had installed the Fiber Guardian from Exfo (www.exfo.com) to help ensure the security of their network.  The Fiber Guardian inserts light into the fiber to actively monitor it using OTDR technology.  The results of the active monitoring are compared to a baseline OTDR trace. If there are differences between what is found and what is expected the Fiber Guardian will go into alarm and send email and text messages to specified service technicians.  What helps make the Fiber Guardian so valuable is that it is linked to a street map with the monitored fiber optic cables superimposed. This isn’t a typical map. It is housed within a special software application called Fiber Test InSight (www.ospinsight.com) that is designed to use the length to the fault contained within the Fiber Guardian alarm and find the location on a map.  Thus, not only are technicians notified that there is a problem, they are directed to where the problem is. 

Late last year technicians for this Singapore-based service provider received email and SMS indicating there was degradation in their network.  They quickly went to the location they were directed to by Fiber Test Insight and Fiber Guardian. Once there, they found a massive construction project.  They noticed that the conduit their cables were in had a sharp bend that was compromising their fiber optic cable. They showed this to the on-site project manager who subsequently was able to secure the damaged pipe.  Finding this cable probably prevented a major outage and saved a tremendous amount of resources in time and repair.

Mark this up to another example of the importance of proactively preparing for the inevitable by managing the fiber optic network.  Interesting side note, this one incident justified the cost for their fiber monitoring solution.

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