Fiber Optic Splicing and Termination
Prefabricated Cabling Systems
Fiber Optic Connectors (L) and Splices in Splice Tray (R)
optic joints or terminations are made two ways: 1) splices which
create a permanent joint between the two fibers or 2) connectors that
mate two fibers to create a temporary joint and/or connect the fiber to
a piece of network gear. Either joining method must have three primary
characteristics for good optical performance: low loss, minimal
reflectance and high mechanical strength. Terminations must also
be of the right style to be compatible to the equipment involved and be
protected against the environment in which they are installed.
are considered permanent joints and are used for joining most outside
plant cables. Fusion splicing is most widely used as it provides for
the lowest loss and least reflectance, as well as providing the most
reliable joint. Virtually all singlemode splices are fusion. Mechanical
splicing is used for temporary restoration and for most multimode
Connectors are used for terminations, that is the ends of
the fibers where they connect to equipment or to patch panels where
fiber routing can be changed by patching different fibers together.
Different connectors and termination procedures are used for multimode
and singlemode fibers. Multimode fibers are relatively easy to
terminate, so field termination is generally done by installing
connectors directly on tight buffered fibers using the procedures
outlined below. Most field singlemode terminations are made by splicing
a factory-made pigtail onto the installed cable rather than terminating
the fiber directly as is commonly done with multimode fiber. Singlemode
terminations require extreme care in assembly, especially polishing, to
get good performance (low loss and reflectance), so they are usually
done in a clean manufacturing facility using heat-cured epoxy and
no fiber optic component has been given greater attention than connectors.
Manufacturers have come up with over 80 styles of connectors and about
a dozen different ways to install them. There are only two types of
splices but numerous ways of implementing them. Fortunately for both
manufacturers and installers, only a few types of either are the ones
used for most applications.
Connector and Splice Loss
The primary specification for connectors or splices is loss or the amount of light lost in the connection.
When we say connector
loss, we really mean "connection" loss - the loss of a mated pair of
connectors, expressed in "dB." Thus, testing connectors requires mating them to reference
connectors which must be high quality connectors themselves to not
adversely affect the measured loss when mated to an unknown connector. This
is an important point often not fully explained. In
order to measure the loss of the connectors you must mate them to a
similar, known good, connector. When a connector being tested is mated
to several different connectors, it may have different losses, because
those losses are dependent on the reference connector it is mated to.
Connection and splice loss is caused by a number of factors. Loss is minimized when the two fiber cores are identical and perfectly aligned (more on the effects of fiber geometry and alignment), the connectors or splices are properly finished and no dirt is present. Only the light that is coupled into the receiving fiber's core will propagate, so all the rest of the light becomes the connector or splice loss.
End gaps cause two problems, insertion loss and reflectance. The emerging cone of light from the connector will spill over the core of the receiving fiber and be lost. In addition, the air gap in the joint between the fibers causes a reflection when the light encounters the change n refractive index from the glass fiber to the air in the gap. This reflection (called fresnel reflection) amounts to about 5% in typical flat polished connectors, and means that no connector with an air gap will have less than about 0.3 dB loss. This reflection is called to as reflectance or optical return loss, which can be a problem in laser based systems. Connectors use a number of polishing techniques to create convex fiber ends that ensure physical contact of the fiber ends to minimize reflectance. On mechanical splices, it is possible to reduce back reflection by using non-perpendicular cleaves, which cause back reflections to be absorbed in the cladding of the fiber.
The end of the fiber must be properly polished and clean to minimize loss. A rough surface will scatter light and dirt can scatter and absorb light. Since the optical fiber is so small, typical airborne dirt can be a major source of loss. Whenever connectors are not terminated, they should be covered with dust caps provided by the manufacturer to protect the end of the ferrule from dirt. One should never touch the end of the ferrule, since the oils on one's skin causes the fiber to attract dirt. Before connection and testing, it is advisable to clean connectors with lint-free wipes moistened with isopropyl alcohol or special dry fiber cleaners.
Two sources of loss caused by mismatched fibers are directional; numerical aperture (NA) and core diameter differences inherent in the fibers being joined. Differences in these two will create connections that have different losses depending on the direction of light propagation. Light from a fiber with a larger NA will overfill the core of the receiving fiber be more sensitive to angularity and end gap, so transmission from a fiber of larger NA to one of smaller NA will be higher loss than the reverse direction. Likewise, light from a larger core fiber will have high loss coupled to a fiber of smaller diameter, while one can couple a small diameter fiber to a large diameter fiber with minimal loss, since it is much less sensitive to end gap or lateral offset.
fiber mismatches occur for two reasons, the occasional need to
interconnect two dissimilar fibers and production variances in fibers
of the same nominal dimensions. Production variances are only a few
microns and contribute only small amounts of loss, but the loss caused
by mismatches will be directional, causing larger losses when
transmitting from larger to smaller core fibers.
With two multimode fibers in common usage today (50/125 and 62.5/125) and two others which have been used occasionally in the past (100/140 and 85/125) and several types of singlemode fiber in use, it is possible to sometimes have to connect dissimilar fibers or use systems designed for one fiber size on another. If you connect a smaller fiber to a larger one, the coupling losses will be minimal, often only the fresnel loss (about 0.3 dB). But connecting larger fibers to smaller ones results in substantial losses, not only due to the smaller cores size, but also the smaller NA of most small core fibers.
More on mismatched fiber losses.
Typical connector losses are generally less than 0.3 dB for factory-polished singlemode or multimode
connectors using adhesive/polish techniques. Few installers tackle
singlemode field termination, generally fusion splicing factory-made
pigtails onto the fibers, since SM polishing is not so easy in the
field, especially in terms of reflectance. Multimode field terminations
are common, since experienced installers can get results comparable to
factory-terminations with adhesive/polish techniques. Field termination
of prepolished/splice connectors using a precision cleaver (those made
for fusion splicing) can produce consistent results around 0.5 dB,
while the simple cleaver produces losses more often in the 0.75 dB
range. Few industry standards put numbers on connector losses, but TIA
568 calls for connection losses of less than 0.75 dB, a high number but
one which will allow use of prepolished/splice connectors.
or optical return loss (which has also been called "back reflection")
of the connector is the amount of light that is
reflected back up the fiber toward the source by light reflections off
the interface of the polished end surface of the connector and air. It
is called fresnel reflection and is caused by the light going through
the change in index of refraction at the interface between the fiber
(n=1.5) and air (n=1). Reflectance is primarily a problem with
connectors but may also affect mechanical splices which contain an
index matching gel to prevent reflectance.
one component of the connector's loss, representing
about 0.3 dB loss for a non-contact or air-gap connector where the two
fibers do not make contact. Minimizing the reflectance is necessary to
get maximum performance out of high bit rate laser systems and
especially AM modulated CATV systems. In multimode systems, reflections
less of a problem but can add to background noise in the fiber.
this is more a problem with singlemode systems, manufacturers have
concentrated on solving the problem for their singlemode components but
multimode connectors benefit also since any reduction in reflectance also reduces loss. Several schemes have been used to
reduce reflectance, mainly using a convex physical contact (PC) polish
on the end of the connector ferrule, which reduces the fresnel
reflection. The technique involves polishing the end surface of the
fiber to a convex surface or even better at a slight angle (APC or
angled physical contact) to prevent reflectance.
See Connector Ferrule Shapes & Polishes below for more information on connector ferrule endface polish to reduce reflectance.
See Measuring Reflectance to see the methods and issues of measuring reflectance.
create a permanent joint between two fibers, so its use is limited to
places where cables are not expected to be available for servicing in
the future. The most common application for splicing is
concatenating (joining) cables in long outside plant cable runs where
the length of the run requires more than one cable. Splicing can be
used to mix a number of different types of cables such as connecting a
48 fiber cable to six 8 fiber cables going to various locations.
Splicing is generally used to terminate singlemode fibers by splicing
preterminated pigtails onto each fiber. And of course, splicing is used
for OSP restoration.
is more common in outside plant (OSP) applications than premises
cabling, where most cables are pulled in one piece and directly terminated. Splicing is only
needed if the cable runs are too long for one straight pull or you need
to mix a number of different types of cables (like bringing a 48 fiber
cable in and splicing it to six 8 fiber cables.) And of course, we
often use splices for OSP restoration, after the number one problem of
outside plant cables, a dig-up and cut of a buried cable, usually
referred to as "backhoe fade" for obvious reasons!
There are two types of
splices, fusion and mechanical. Fusion splicing is most widely used as
it provides for the lowest loss and least reflectance, as well as
providing the strongest and most reliable joint. Fusion splicing
machines are available in two types that splice a single fiber or a
ribbon of 12 fibers at one time. Virtually all singlemode splices are
fusion. Mechanical splicing is mostly used for temporary restoration
and for multimode splicing. In the photo below, a fusion splice is on
the left and the rest are various types of mechanical splices.
Splices: fusion on the far left, other types of mechanical splices.
Fusion plices are made by "welding" the two fibers together usually by an electric
arc. To be safe, you should not do that in an enclosed space like a manhole
or an explosive atmosphere, and the equipment is too bulky for most
aerial applications, so fusion splicing is usually done above ground in
a truck or trailer set up for the purpose. (photo above) Splicing
on poles is obviously dangerous too. It’s easier to bring extra cable
length into a trailer on the ground and work in a clean environment for
splicing, placing splices in a closure and testing. The final closure
is then placed in location and the extra fiber carefully looped and
mounted in an appropriate place.
fusion splicers are automated and you have a hard time making a bad
splice as long as you cleave the fiber properly. The biggest application is singlemode fibers in outside plant
installations. Fusion splices are so good today that splice points may
not be detectable in OTDR traces. Some splicing machines can do one fiber at a time but Mass Fusion Splicers can do all 12 fibers in a ribbon at once. Fusion splicers cost $15,000 to $40,000, but the splices only cost a few dollars each.
The Fusion Splicing Process
Preparing the Fibers
fusion splicing process is basically the same for all automatic
splicing machines. The first step is to strip, clean & cleave the
fibers to be spliced. Strip the primary buffer coating to expose the
proper length of bare fiber. Clean the fiber with appropriate wipes.
Cleave the fiber using the directions appropriate to the cleaver being
used. Place each fiber into the guides in the fusion splicing machine
and clamp it in place.
Running the splicer program
choose the proper program for the fiber types being spliced. The
splicer will show the fibers being spliced on a video screen.
Fiber ends will be inspected for proper cleaves and bad ones will be
rejected. That fiber must be cleaved again. The fibers will be moved
into position, prefused to remove any dirt on the fiber ends and
preheat the fibers for splicing. The fibers will be aligned using the
core alignment method used on that splicer. Then the fibers will be
fused by an automatic arc cycle that heats them in an electric arc and
feeds the fibers together at a controlled rate.
When fusion is
completed, the splicing machine will inspect the splice and estimate
the optical loss of the splice. It will tell the operator if a splice
needs to be remade. The operator removes the fibers from the guides and
attach a permanent splice protector by heat-shrinking or clamping clam
Mass (Ribbon) Fusion Splicing
cables are fusion spliced one ribbon at a time, rather than one fiber
at a time. Thus each ribbon is stripped, cleaved and spliced as a unit.
Special tools are needed to strip the fiber ribbon, usually heating it
first, then cleave all fibers at once. Many tools place the ribbon in a
carrier that supports and aligns it through stripping, cleaving and
splicing. Consult both cable and splicer manufacturers to ensure you
have the proper directions.
More on fusion splicing.
Video on fusion splicing on the FOA Channel on
Mechanical splices are alignment fixtures that hold the ends of two fibers together with some index matching gel or glue between them. There are a number of types of mechanical splices, like little glass tubes or V-shaped metal clamps. The tools to make mechanical splices are cheap, but the splices themselves are more expensive. Many mechanical splices are used for restoration, but they can work well with both singlemode and multimode fiber, with practice - and using a quality cleaver such as those used for fusion splicing.
Mechanical Splicing Process
Preparing the Fibers
splicing process is basically the same for all types of mechanical
splices. The first step is to strip, clean & cleave the fibers to
be spliced. Strip the primary buffer coating to expose the proper
length of bare fiber. Clean the fiber with appropriate wipes. Cleave
the fiber using the directions appropriate to the cleaver being used.
Using a high quality cleaver such as those provided with fusion
splicers will yield more consistent and lower loss splices.
Making The Mechanical Splice
the first fiber into the mechanical splice. Most splices are designed
to limit the depth of the fiber insertion by the stripped length of
buffer coating on the fiber. Clamp the fiber in place if fibers are
held separately. Some splices clamp both fibers at once. Repeat these
steps for the second fiber.
You can optimize the loss of a
mechanical splice visually using a visual fault locator, a visible
laser test source if the fiber ends being spliced are visible. Gently
withdraw one of the fibers a slight amount, rotating it slightly and
reinserting it until the visible light is minimized, indicating lowest
More on mechanical splicing.
Video on mechanical splicing on the FOA Channel on
Color Codes for Splicing
fibers and buffer tubes in loose tube cables are color coded for
identification. When splicing similar cables on long runs, fibers
should be spliced straight through according to color codes to continue
the same color coding for each joined fiber in the concatenated cables.
When connecting large fiber count cables to several smaller cables,
fibers should be spliced in order and records kept of the connections
protection against the outside plant environment and damage, splices
require placement in a protective case. They are generally placed in a
splice tray which is then placed inside a splice closure for OSP
installations or a patch panel box for premises applications. Indoors,
splice trays are often integrated into patch panels to provide for
connections to the fibers.
There are probably thousands of different
types and options on splice closures. Some are designed for
concatenation of long distance cables where two identical cables are
spliced together. Some closures are designed for connecting several
smaller cables to a larger one for breaking out the larger cable to
several destinations. Closures can be used for midspan entry also,
where the cable jacket is stripped but most of the buffer tubes are
coiled inside without opening, while one or more tubes will be opened
and spliced to other cables. Some have cables entering into one end,
some have cable entries on both ends.
There are splice closures
designed to be buried, mounted on walls, hung from cables or poles.
Some are small pedestals themselves. Each type has a particular
application and probably every application has a special closure. Even
special hardware may be necessary for handling different cable or
splice types, so make certain you have the right hardware before using
the closure. It is recommended that you work with vendors to find the
best closure for your applications then follow their instructions.
cables for splice closures involves several steps that should be
followed in the exact sequence specified by the manufacturer to ensure
the cables are properly secured and the closure will seal. For every
splice closure, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s
instructions on stripping the cable to ensure proper lengths of
strength members to secure the cable to the closure and proper lengths
of buffer tubes to connect to the splice trays. The proper length of
fiber is needed to allow splicing and then neatly storing fiber in the
splice tray. Inside splice closures and at each end, cables with
metallic shielding or strength members must be properly grounded and
Care should be taken when arranging fibers and splices in
splice trays and buffer tubes in the splice closure to prevent stress
on the fibers. Arranging fibers inside splice trays may require
twisting the fiber but following the closure manufacturer’s
instructions will minimize the stress on the fiber. Often the fibers
are broken as the trays and closure are assembled or re-entered for
troubleshooting and repair. Cables must be secured to the splice
closure and sealed properly. Generally loose tube cables will have the
tubes extending from the entrance of the closure to the tray, where
they are secured, then approximately 1 meter of bare fibers are
organized in the tray after splicing. Care must be taken to properly
bond electrical conductors such as the armor on some cables or center
metallic strength members to the closure and at each end.
closures must be sealed to prevent moisture entry. Closures must be
properly secured, with the location being determined by the
installation type, and excess cable properly coiled and stored. This
may be in a pedestal or vault, on a pole or tower or buried underground.
Which Splice ?
If cost is the issue, fusion requires expensive equipment and but makes cheap splices, while mechanical splices require inexpensive equipment and expensive splice hardware. So if you make a lot of splices (like thousands in an big telco or CATV network) use fusion splices. If you need just a few, use mechanical splices.
Fusion splices give very low back reflections and are preferred for singlemode high speed digital or CATV networks. However, they may not work well some multimode fibers, so mechanical splices may be preferred for MM, unless it is an underwater or aerial application, where the greater reliability of the fusion splice is preferred.
Making Good Splices
consistently low loss splices depends on proper techniques and keeping
equipment in good shape. Cleanliness is a big issue, of course. Fiber
strippers should be kept clean and in good condition and be replaced
when nicked or worn. Cleavers are most important, as the secret to good
splices - either fusion or mechanical - is having good cleaves on both
fibers. Keep cleavers clean and have the scribing blades aligned and
replaced regularly. Fusion splicers should be properly maintained and
fusing parameters set for the fibers being spliced. For mechanical
splices, light pressure on the fiber to keep the ends together while
crimping is important. Use a visual fault locator (VFL) to optimize the splice before crimping if possible.
Verifying Splice Loss
are permanent joints that cannot be accessed for individual insertion
loss testing with a source and power meter as connectors are tested.
Fusion splicers generally provide an estimate of connector loss based
on an analysis of data from the alignment system used by the splicer,
but it is only an estimate. An insertion loss test of the entire
finished cable will be done when installation is finished, but that
only allows comparison to the overall loss predicted by the loss budget
created during the design phase, not verification of any individual
For concatenations of cables, only an OTDR can see the
splice and confirm its loss, but for accurate loss measurements it
requires testing from both ends and averaging (see Chapter 8 on
Testing.) The OTDR test will also confirm that the splice is not
reflective, an important issue in many systems. The limited resolution
of the OTDR means that it cannot be used to verify the splices used to
terminate fibers with pigtails, but a visual fault locator can be used
to check these splices near the ends of the cable.
More on splices, including hands-on tutorials
fiber optic connectors are plugs or so-called male connectors with a
protruding ferrule that holds the fibers and aligns two fibers for
mating. They use a mating adapter to mate the two connectors that fits
the securing mechanism of the connectors (bayonet, screw-on or
snap-in.) The ferrule design is also useful as it can be used to
connect directly to active devices like LEDs, VCSELs and detectors.
Different connectors and termination procedures are used
for singlemode and multimode connectors. Multimode fibers are
relatively easy to terminate, so field termination is generally done by
installing connectors directly on tight buffered fibers using the
procedures outlined below. Most field singlemode
terminations are made by splicing a factory-made pigtail onto the
installed cable rather than terminating the fiber directly as is
commonly done with multimode fiber. Singlemode terminations require
extreme care in assembly, especially polishing, to get good performance
(low loss and reflectance), so they are usually done in a clean
manufacturing facility using heat-cured epoxy and machine polishing.
a connector type for any installation should consider if the connector
is compatible with the systems planned to utilize the fiber optic cable
plant, if the termination process is familiar to the installer and if
the connector is acceptable to the customer. If the systems are not yet
specified, hybrid patchcords with different connectors on each end may
be necessary. If the installer is not familiar with connector
installation, training may be necessary. And sometimes, the user may
have been sold on a connector type that is not ideal for the
installation, so the installer should discuss the merits of other types
before committing to the project.
Styles of Fiber Optic Connectors
fiber optic technology was introduced in the late 70s, numerous
connector styles have been developed - probably over 100 designs. Each new design was meant to
offer better performance (less light loss and reflectance) and easier,
faster and/or more inexpensive termination.
course, the marketplace eventually
determines which connectors are successful. However several attempts to
standardize connectors have been attempted. Some were unique to systems or networks. FDDI, the first fiber LAN,
and ESCON, the IBM mainframe
peripheral network, required unique connectors. TIA 568
originally called for SC connectors as a standard, but when users continued
to use more STs than SCs and a whole new generation of smaller
connectors were introduced, TIA-568B was changed to say that any
connector standardized by a FOCIS standard document was acceptable.
four connectors shown at left show how fiber optic connectors have
evolved. The bottom connector is a Deutsch 1000, the first
commercially-available fiber optic connector. It was really a
mechanical splice, where fibers were held inside the connector with a
tiny screw-tightened chuck. The nose piece was spring-loaded, allowing
exposing the fiber for cleaving and mating with a small plastic lens in
a mating adapter. The mating adapter also had index-matching fluid to
reduce loss but it was a dirt problem.
yellow connector is an AT&T Biconic. It was developed by Jack Cook
at Bell Labs in the late 1970s. The conical ferrule was molded from
glass-filled plastic. The first Biconics had ferrules molded around the
fiber, until a die with a tiny 125 micron pin in the exact center was
developed. When Biconics were adapted to singlemode fiber, the ferrules
were ground on a special grinding machine to center the fiber.
SC, which was introduced in the mid-1980s, used a new invention, the
molded ceramic ferrule, that revolutionized fiber optic termination.
Ceramic was an ideal ferrule material. It could be made cheaply by
molding, much cheaper than machining metal for example. It was
stable with temperature, having similar expansion characteristics to
glass which prevented "pistoning" when the ferrule came unglued, a
problem with metal or plastic ferrules. It's hardness was similar
to glass which made polishing much easier. And it readily
adhered to fibers using epoxies or anaerobic adhesives.
Today, virtually all connectors use the ceramic ferrule, usually 2.5 mm
diameter (SC, ST, FC) or 1.25 mm (LC, MU.)
LC connector was introduced in the late 1990s to miniaturize connectors
for higher density in patch panels or equipment. It uses a smaller
ceramic ferrule, 1.25 mm diameter. The LC is the connector of choice
for telecom and high speed data (>1 Gb/s) networks.
Guide to Identifying Fiber Optic Connectors
Check out the "spotters guide" below and you will see the most common fiber optic connectors. (All the photos are to the same scale except the MTP, so you can get an idea of the relative size of these connectors.)
|ST (an AT&T Trademark) is the one of the most popular connectors for multimode networks, like most buildings and campuses. It has a bayonet mount and a long cylindrical ferrule to hold the fiber. Most ferrules are ceramic, but some are metal or plastic. And because they are spring-loaded, you have to make sure they are seated properly. If you have high loss, reconnect them to see if it makes a difference.
|FC/PC has been one of the most popular singlemode connectors for many years. It screws on firmly, but make sure you have the key aligned in the slot properly before tightening. It's being replaced by SCs and LCs.
is a snap-in connector that is widely used in singlemode systems for
it's excellent performance and multimode systems because it was the
first connector chosen as the standard connector for TIA-568 (now any
connector with a FOCIS standard is acceptable.) It's a snap-in
connector that latches with a simple push-pull motion. It is also
available in a duplex configuration.
ST/SC/FC/FDDI/ESON connectors have the same ferrule size - 2.5 mm or
about 0.1 inch - so they can be mixed and matched to each other using
hybrid mating adapters. This makes it convenient to test, since you can
have a set of multimode reference test cables with ST or SC connectors
and adapt to all these connectors.
From the top:
is a new connector that uses a 1.25 mm ferrule, half the size of the
ST. Otherwise, it's a standard ceramic ferrule connector, easily
terminated with any adhesive. Good performance, highly favored for
singlemode and the connector of choice for multimode transceivers for gigabit
speeds and above, including multimode Ethernet and Fibre Channel.
|MT-RJ is a duplex connector with both fibers in a single polymer ferrule. It uses pins for alignment and has male and female versions. Multimode only, field terminated only by prepolished/splice method. Mostly obsolete.
|Opti-Jack is a neat, rugged duplex connector cleverly designed around two ST-type ferrules in a package the size of a RJ-45. It has male and female (plug and jack) versions.
|Volition is a simple, inexpensive duplex connector that uses no ferrule at all. It aligns fibers in a V-groove like a splice. Plug and jack versions, but one can field terminate jacks only.
|MU looks a miniature SC with a 1.25 mm ferrule. It's more popular in Japan.
MTP is a 12 fiber connector for ribbon cable. It's main use is for preterminated cable assemblies.
Here is an even more comprehensive guide to fiber optic connectors, including obsolete ones.
The ST/SC/FC/FDDI/ESCON connectors have the same ferrule size - 2.5 mm or about 0.1 inch diameter- so they can be mixed and matched to each other using hybrid mating adapters. This makes it convenient to test, since you can have a set of multimode reference test cables with ST connectors and adapt to all these connectors. Likewise, the LC and MU use the same ferrule (1.25 mm diameter) so mating is possible.
ST is still one of the most popular multimode connectors because it is
inexpensive and easy to install. The SC connector was specified as a
standard by the old EIA/TIA 568A specification, but its higher cost and
difficulty of installation (until recently) limited its popularity in
premises applications at first. However, newer SCs are much better in
both cost and installation ease, so it has been growing in use, but is
now challenged by the LC, which is the connector of choice for
transceivers for systems operating at gigabit speeds because of its
small size and high performance.
Singlemode networks have used FC or SC connectors in about the same proportion as ST and SC in multimode installations. There are some D4s out there too. But LCs have become the most popular, again for their performance and small size.
- EIA/TIA 568 now allows any fiber optic connector as long as it has a FOCIS (Fiber Optic Connector Intermateability Standard) document behind it. This opened the way to the development of several new connectors, which we call the "Small Form Factor" (SFF) connectors, including AT&T LC, the MT-RJ, the Panduit "Opti-Jack," 3M's Volition, the E2000/LX-5 and MU. The LC has been particularly successful in the US.
Specialty Fiber Optic Connectors
are a number of specialty fiber optic connectors available such as this
multifiber military connector, special underwater or aircraft
connectors, plastic optical fiber (POF) connectors, etc. Most have been
designed for very specific applications and require extremely rigorous
qualification testing. Some like the Mil-C-38999, are copper wiring
connectors adapted to hold fiber optic ferrules. Many of these
connectors require special cable types, termination procedures,
cleaning, handling and test procedures. Refer to manufacturer's
instructions whenever dealing with these types of connectors.
Connector Ferrule Shapes & Polishes
- Fiber optic connectors can have several different ferrule shapes or finishes, usually referred to as end finish or polish types.
- Early connectors, which did not have keyed ferrules and could rotate in mating adapters, always had an air gap between the connectors to prevent them rotating and grinding scratches into the ends of the fibers. The ends of the ferrules were polished on hard,flat surfaces. They are sometimes referred to as NC or "Non-Fiber Contact" styles.
with the ST and FC which had keyed ferrules, the connectors were
designed to contact tightly, what we now call physical contact (PC)
connectors. These connectors were still polished flat on the end.
Reducing the air gap reduced the loss and reflectance (very important
to laser-based singlemode systems ), since light has a loss of about 5%
(~0.25 dB) at each air gap and light is reflected back up the fiber.
While air gap connectors usually had losses of 0.5 dB or more and a
reflectance of -20 dB, PC connectors had typical losses of 0.3 dB and
of -30 to -40 dB. PC connectors required polishing on a flat surface
with a soft rubber pad to allow the end to be polished convex.
- Soon thereafter, it was determined that polishing the connector ferrules to a convex end face would produce an even better connection. The convex ferrule guaranteed the fiber cores were in contact. Losses were under 0.3dB and reflectance -40 dB or better.
- The ultimate solution for singlemode systems extremely sensitive to reflections, like CATV or high bitrate telco links, was to angle the end of the ferrule 8 degrees to create what we call an APC or angled PC connector. Then any reflected light is at an angle that is absorbed in the cladding of the fiber, resulting in reflectance of >-60 dB.
Connector Color Codes:
the earliest days of fiber optics, orange, black or gray was multimode
and yellow singlemode. However, the advent of metallic connectors like
the FC and ST made color coding difficult, so colored boots were often
The TIA 568 color code for connector bodies and/or boots is
Beige for multimode fiber, Blue for singlemode fiber, and Green for APC
- Whatever you do, always follow the manufacturer's termination instructions closely .
connectors are usually installed in the field on the cables
after pulling, while singlemode connectors are usually installed by
splicing a factory-made "pigtail" onto the fiber. The tolerances on
singlemode terminations are much tighter than multimode and the
are more critical, so singlemode termination is better done in a
factory environment using polishing machines (left, below). You
singlemode connectors in the field for low speed data networks, but you
may not be able to get losses lower than 1 dB and reflectance may be a
problem! Multimode connectors are easier to install and polish (below,
right) so are often done in the field by trained technicians.
can be installed directly on most cable types, including jacketed tight buffer types
like simplex, zipcord and breakout cables, where the where the aramid fiber strength members in the cable are crimped or glued to the connector body to create a strong connector. Connectors can
be attached to the 900 micron buffered fibers in distribution cables,
but the termination is not as rugged as those made to jacketed cables,
so they should be placed in patch panels or boxes for protection. The
250 micron buffered fibers in loose tube cables cannot be easily
terminated unless they have a reinforcement called a breakout kit or
furcation kit installed, where each fiber is covered by a larger
plastic tube. Generally loose tube and ribbon cables are terminated by
splicing on a terminated pigtail.
- Cables can be pulled with connectors already on them if, and a big if,
you can deal with two issues: First, the length must be precise.
Too short and you have to pull another longer one (its not cost
effective to splice), too long and you waste money and have to store
the extra cable length. Secondly, the connectors must be protected.
Some cable and connector manufacturers offer protective sleeves to
cover the connectors, but you must still be much more careful in
pulling cables. You might consider terminating one end and pulling the
unterminated end to not risk the connectors. There is a growing
movement to install preterminated systems with the MTP 12 multifiber
connector. It's tiny not much bigger than a ST or SC, but has up to
12 fibers. Manufacturers sell multifiber cables with MTPs on them that
connect to preterminated patch panels with STs or SCs. (See "Do You Have To Terminate In The Field" below.)
Multimode Terminations: Several different types of terminations are available for multimode fibers. Each version has its advantages and disadvantages, so learning more about how each works helps decide which one to use.
Singlemode fiber requires different connectors and polishing techniques
that are best done in a factory environment. Consequently most SM fiber
is field terminated by splicing on a factory-terminated pigtail. Singlemode
termination requires special connectors with much tighter tolerances on
the ferrule, especially the hole for the fiber. Polishing requires
special diamond polishing film on a soft rubber pad and a polishing
slurry to get low reflectance. But you can put SM connectors on
in the field if you know what you are doing. Expect higher loss
and high reflectance.
Most connectors use epoxies or other adhesives to hold the fiber in the
connector ferrule and polish the end of the fiber to a smooth finish. Follow
termination procedures carefully, as they have been developed to
produce the lowest loss and most reliable terminations. Use only the
specified adhesives, as the fiber to ferrule bond is critical for low
and long term reliability! We've seen people use hardware store
epoxies, Crazy Glue, you name it! And they regretted doing it. Only
adhesives approved by manufacturers or other distributors of connectors
should be used. If the adhesive fails, not unusual when connector ferrules
were made of metal, the fiber will "piston" - sticking out or pulling
back into the ferrule - causing high loss and potential damage to a
polishing process involves three steps which only takes a minute: "air
polishing" to grind down the protruding fiber, polishing on a soft pad
with the fiber held perpendicular to the polishing surface with a
polishing puck and a quick final fine polish.
Most connectors, including virtually all factory made terminations, are
the simple "epoxy/polish" type where the fiber is glued into the
connector with epoxy and the end polished with special polishing film.
These provide the most reliable connection, lowest losses (less than
0.5 dB) and lowest costs, especially if you are doing a lot of
connectors. The small bead of hardened epoxy that surrounds the fiber
on the end of the ferrule even makes the cleaving and polishing
processes much easier - practically foolproof. The epoxy can be allowed
to set overnight or cured in an inexpensive oven. A "heat gun" should
never be used to try to cure the epoxy faster as the uneven heat may
not cure all the epoxy or may overheat some of it which will prevent it
ever curing. Don't use "Hot Melt" ovens either, as they use a much
higher temperature and will ruin the epoxy.
"Hot Melt" Adhesive/Polish: This
is a 3M trade name for a connector that already has the epoxy (actually
a heat set glue) inside the connector. You insert the connector in a special oven. In a few
minutes, the glue is melted, so you remove the connector, insert the stripped fiber, let it cool
and it is ready to polish. Fast and easy, low loss, but not as cheap as
the epoxy type, it has become the favorite of lots of contractors who
install relatively small quantities of connectors. Remember you need a
special Hot Melt oven, as it needs a much higher temperature than is
used for curing epoxy.
These connectors use a quick setting "anaerobic" adhesive to replace
the epoxy or Hot Melt adhesive that cures faster than other types of
adhesives. They work well if your technique is good, but some do not
have the wide temperature range of epoxies. A lot of installers are
using Loctite 648, with or without the accelerator solution, that is
neat and easy to use.
More on adhesive/polish connectors.
Videos on termination on the FOA Channel on
Crimp/Polish: Rather than glue the fiber in the connector, these connectors use a crimp on the fiber to hold it in. Early types offered "iffy" performance, but today they are pretty good, if you practice a lot. Expect to trade higher losses for the faster termination speed. And they are more costly than epoxy polish types. A good choice if you only install small quantities and your customer will accept them.
Prepolished/Splice Connectors (also called "cleave & crimp")
manufacturers offer connectors that have a short stub fiber
already epoxied into the ferrule and polished and a mechanical splice
in the back of the connector, so you just
cleave a fiber and insert it like a splice, a process which can be done
very quickly. Several connectors
use a fusion splice instead of a mechanical splice to attach the
connector, a better process but requiring more expensive equipment - a
fusion splicer, sometimes a dedicated splicer for that connector.
both good and bad points. The manufacturing process is complex so these
costly, as much as ten times as much as an adhesive/polish
type, since they require careful manufacturing. Some of that extra cost
can be recovered in lower labor costs for installation. You must
good cleave on the fiber you are terminating to make them low loss, as
the fiber cleave is a major factor in the loss of a mechanical splice.
Using a high quality
cleaver like those used for fusion splicing, available from some
manufacturers as part of their termination kits, is recommended. Even
if you do
everything correctly, loss will be somewhat higher, because you
have a connection loss plus a splice loss in every connector. The
best way to terminate them is to verify the loss of the splice with a
locator and "tweak" them. (Photo: Corning, Unicam)
More on prepolished/splice connectors.
more about termination processes and view the actual processes involved
in termination with "Virtual Hands-On" tutorials and on the FOA Channel on . See the Table of Contents for listings of termination types under Components.
Hints for doing field terminations
Here are a few things to remember when you are terminating connectors in the field. Following these guidelines will save you time, money and frustration.
Choose the connector carefully and clear it with the customer if it is anything other than an epoxy/polish type. Some customers have strong opinions on the types or brands of connectors used in their job. Find out first, not later!
Never, never, NEVER take a new connector in the field until you have installed enough of them in the office that you can put them on in your sleep. The field is no place to experiment or learn! It'll cost you big time!
Have the right tools for the job. Make sure you have the proper tools and they are in good shape before you head out for the job. This includes all the termination tools, cable tools and test equipment. Do you know your test cables are good? Without that, you will test good terminations as bad every time. More and more installers are owning their own tools like auto mechanics, saying that is the only way to make sure the tools are properly cared for.
Dust and dirt are your enemies. It's very hard to terminate or splice in a dusty place. Try to work in the cleanest possible location. Use lint-free wipes (not cotton swaps or rags made from old T-shirts!) to clean every connector before connecting or testing it. Don't work under heating vents, as they are blowing dirt down on you continuously.
Don't overpolish. Contrary to common sense, too much polishing is just
as bad as too little. The ceramic ferrule in most of today's connector
is much harder than the glass fiber. Polish too much will cause
undercutting of the fiber and you create a concave fiber surface not
convex as it should be, increasing the loss. A few swipes is all it
Change polishing film regularly. Polishing builds up residue and dirt on the film that can cause problems after too many connectors and cause poor end finish. Check the manufacturers' specs.
Put covers on connectors and patch panels when not in use. Keep them covered to keep them clean.
Inspect and test, then document. It is very hard to troubleshoot cables when you don't know how long they are, where they go or how they tested originally! So keep good records, smart users require it and expect to pay extra for good records.
Prefabricated Cabling Systems: Do You Have To Terminate In The Field?
necessarily. Many manufacturers offer prefabricated fiber optic
cabling systems for both premises and outside plant systems. In fact,
the largest application for prefabricated
systems is fiber to the home
(FTTH) where it saves a tremendous amount of time in installation and
cost. Using prefab systems requires knowing precisely where the cable
will be run so cable lengths can be specified. Using CAD systems and
design drawings, a complete
fiber optic cabling system is designed to the customer's specifications
and built in a factory using standard components. Early prefabricated
systems (some are still available) simply terminated cables with
standard connectors like STs or SCs and put them inside a plastic
pulling boot with a pulling loop attached to the fiber strength
members. The cable would be placed with the boot in place then removed
to connect into patch panels.
more common to use backbone cables terminated in small multifiber MTP
connectors that are pulled from room to room and connected to
rack-mounted modules that have MTP connectors on the back and single
fiber connectors on the front (see photo of Fiberware system.) Like
everything else, there are tradeoffs. The factory-assembled connectors
usually have lower loss than field terminations but the MTP connectors,
even factory assembled, are not low loss, so the total loss may be more
than field terminated systems. Costs also involve tradeoffs, as factory
systems are more expensive for the components but installation time is
In new facilities, considering prefabricated systems is always a good idea, but all factors
should be considered before making a decision.
More on prefab cable systems.
More on connectors and termination, including hands-on tutorials.
Test Your Comprehension
The FOA Reference Guide to Outside Plant Fiber Optics
The FOA Online Reference Guide to Fiber Optics
You can buy the printed version of the The FOA Reference Guide to Outside Plant Fiber Optics from the FOA eStore or Amazon.