The estimated lifetime of an optical fiber in a telecom network is 25 years, which led all other cable components to be designed to match this fiber optic cable durability. UV protection on outer cables, resistance to moisture or water, tension elements inside the cable, etc., are all designed to achieve longevity for more than 25 years.
What Precautions should we take during Installment?
There are many different factors that can influence fiber optic cable durability. Some of the situations that cause fibers to deteriorate faster than their usual lifetime are:
A fiber without flaws (micro-cracks) on the surface is extremely resistant to tension and compression. However, a “perfect” fiber doesn’t exist, and micro-cracks are present in every fiber. Over time, and with the “help” of the tension to which the fiber is subjected, whether due to installation errors or environmental factors, these micro-cracks increase slowly at first. As they grow, so does the speed of degradation until failure or fiber breakage.
Careless installation can cause bending or stretching of the cable. This will cause tension on the fibers, which potentiates the micro-cracks in the fiber construction to increase the rate of degradation. The use of materials with different characteristics in the cable splices can cause fiber movement, for example in a joint with different thermal expansion coefficients than the cable. Placing fibers in a loose tube helps to minimize these effects by leaving the fibers loose, with the flexibility of movement, avoiding tension, and prolonging the life of the fiber.
Extremely high or low temperatures, variations in temperature, or the presence of humidity will increase the rate of fiber degradation. The rest of the cable materials, anti-moisture gel inside the loose tube, UV-resistant outer insulation, etc., will help to minimize these effects.
The first fibers installed on a large scale were 35 years ago, in the early 80’s, and to date, there are no reports of communication breakdowns due to fiber degradation.
The malfunctions in these networks are almost always caused by humans due to poor installation, misaligned fusions, or accidental cuts in the cable. Or by animals, mice, moles, etc., or natural phenomena.
Taking precautions with the factors mentioned above will help you improve the durability of your fibers, allowing them to achieve their longevity.
Why do Fiber Optic Cables have More Longevity?
Material-wise, fiber optical durability doesn’t differ from other telecommunications cables. Technology-wise though, fiber allows for expansion of the network without replacement of cables, an issue that can be faced when working with copper networks.
Other Benefits of Fiber Optic Cables (Versus Copper Cables)
Besides durability, there are many benefits to fiber optic cables, especially in comparison to copper cables. Some of these are:
- As mentioned before, with optical fiber you have a larger useful lifetime, as with it you can expand the network without needing to replace it. The same doesn’t happen with copper. In a copper system, the expected life cycle of a copper network is between 5 and 10 years since a technology upgrade implies the replacement of the complete network. That is, if you want to change from Cat 6 to Cat 6a you must change the entire network. In optical fiber, changes due to speed upgrades only affect active equipment, the distribution network used remains the same.
- Fiber has a higher transmission speed. The transmission speed in an optical cable is about 30% faster than in a copper cable. In other words, to travel the same distance, the optical signal is 30% faster.
- In comparison, optical fiber also has a larger bandwidth capacity. A copper cable can transmit up to 10Gb/s by standards. Fiber has no known maximum limit, but 250Tb/s has already been achieved in a single fiber.
- When talking about energy, fiber consumes less energy per user. In a copper system, each user consumes more than 10W. In fiber one, each user consumes 2W.
- Fiber optical networks are immune to electromagnetic interference. Copper cables transmit information through electrical signals (electron movement), which makes them vulnerable to external electromagnetic interferences (adjacent cables) and to other pairs inside the same cable. Optic fiber uses photon light pulses for transmission, which is immune to such interferences.
- Overall, fiber is safer. It’s hard to externally corrupt a fiber optical network, and the case isn’t the same for copper networks. In fiber, we have a substantial increment in network safety.
It’s safe to say that there are many reasons why fiber is a good choice for a telecom network, fiber optic cable durability being just one of them in such a wide range of benefits.
Related articles: Fiber Optic Attenuator: When You Should Use It