Fiber Optic Installation Guidelines

Guidelines For Fiber Optic Project Planners

New projects are getting started every day around the world, so FOA thought it would be good to provide some guidelines for projects getting started that can save time, money and lots of grief. One thing you should remember - every fiber optic project is unique - success depends on continual planning, monitoring, assessment and corrections.

Plan now for a "terabit future"
Middle mile networks today are probably aimed at 100G speeds or above. Terabit speeds on coherent networks are not far in the future. Ensure your network is ready with the right fiber and lots of fibers. Fiber is cheap - fiber optic cable is only 5-15% of the cost of a project and construction is around 50%, so a couple of percent extra cable cost for extra fibers today can save a lot of money in the future. FTTH PONs are generally thought of as gigabit networks, but 10G is getting cheap and faster networks are in development. Likewise, splitters should be installed with spare ports for future growth.

Read More: Building a Terabit City  

Plan now to just "Dig Once"
We started promoting this concept in the early days of fiber optics when we watched company after company dig up the same roads to install more fiber. Dig once - if you open the ground to bury conduit or ducts, bury lots of spare ducts for future cables. Remember construction is 50% of the cost and duct is only ~1% percent of the cost so burying spares now will save lots of future costs for expansion.

Dig Once has been Federal Policy Since 2013  

Plan now to protect your current infrastructure
Fiber optic construction is infamous for damaging underground infrastructure when trenching or directional boring, even when using an auger to bore holes for setting new poles for aerial cable plant. Use the "Call/Click Before You Dig" services, of course, but discuss this with the contractors you interview to hire for the job. Are they familiar with Call/Click Before You Dig? Do they have experience locating underground utilities? Do they have a history of problems?

Here is the "Call Before You Dig" Website  

Plan now for disasters
Look around you - hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms, floods, wildfires, earthquakes, even volcanoes erupting in some areas - disasters can be devastating to communications networks and cable plants.  Aerial cable plants are especially vulnerable so installing the cable plant underground may be more expensive now but could save a lot of repair costs in the future. Backup power should also be part of your plans. Besides, going underground avoids the "pole wars" for permits and perils of "one-touch make ready" installations.

Read More: FOA Newsletter August 2023 and September 2023

Evaluate contractors thoroughly and carefully
There is a shortage of fiber optic contractors and installers. Trainers like the FOA's network of approved schools are turning out new certified techs (CFOTs) at a fast pace but many contractors will hire anybody and let them learn by OJT. Even worse, many contractors will hire subcontractors )and sometimes THEY hire subcontractors) so you have little control of who is installing your network. The BEAD program specifies trained and certified techs but controlling subcontractors is difficult. FOA recommends putting in the project documentation that all installers working on the project must be certified by an industry recognized certifying body like FOA. Needless to say, all contractors bidding on the project should be investigated thoroughly, including interviewing previous customers, asking about the quality of their work, completion on time and within budget. And their financial condition.

FOA Guide To Choosing Contractors  

Be wary of the "lowest bid"
You know that's good advice on any project, but a fiber project has some possible loopholes. One contractor subcontracted a landscaping company to dig trenches - they cut several fiber optic cables connecting buildings. Another subcontractor laid a fiber optic cable on the ground in high grass in a remote area of a city park - found when the city cut the grass. A contractor hired to also procure the cable he was to install bought miles of cable from a distributor selling imported no-brand cable, only to find the cables were breaking fibers when pulled into ducts. A government agency trying to connect their equipment found their contractor did not properly terminate the fibers. Details are important and often are missed on the lowest bid.

Be wary of the "highest bid" (and consultants)
FOA has seen many projects that cost way more than they should because the customer thought the consultant knew best. One consultant designed a FTTH system for a rich development that cost the about 5 times more than it should. Another took on a project to design a network, but at the end of a year told the customer they could not do the design, but they kept the fee for the consulting.. A engineering firm created a FTTH design for a small town that could have been cheaply built using the available utility poles, but their design used directional boring at many times the cost. Evaluate consultants just as carefully as contractors - experience, successful projects and happy customers are what you want to look for.

Plan for budget issues
Sure, some projects get built to budget, some even come in under budget, but a lot more have cost overruns. In recent history, inflation has been a factor in some projects because they take time to complete. Once you get started, there are few options to cut costs, so having the ability to be flexible on costs can make it much less stressful.

Plan on being patient
Rome was not built in a day; neither was any fiber optic network. A typical FTTH or metro project takes years from concept to completion. Refining the concept, arranging budgets, doing a preliminary design and creating a SOW, sending out  RFP and/or RFQ, evaluating bids, completing project management schedules and finalizing documentation - and that's all before you "break ground"! Then procuring components hits snags in the supply chain, construction takes time, encounters obstacles and delays, you get the idea.

Read the "Fiber Optic Project Timeline" in the FOA Reference Guide To Fiber Optic Projects  

Plan for secure storage
Any major fiber optic project uses a lot of bulky components like spools of fiber duct and cable or boxes of splice closures, pedestals, and other hardware. And it is very valuable. Loss of these components could delay a project for many months. It should be in protected storage, preferably in a warehouse where it can be protected from the elements and guarded to prevent theft. Fiber optic cable is sometimes stolen by thieves thinking it is copper wire and valuable as scrap. Do not store fiber duct outdoors under a freeway like Atlanta did - it burned and destroyed the freeway.

Read about the Atlanta freeway fire in the FOA Newsletter December 2019

Inspect during installation and before you accept
Fiber optic networks are expensive and should meet the specifications of the installation contract. The project manager should inspect the installation often, looking for the installed cable plant following the documentation and exhibiting proper installation with good workmanship. When it's finished, before you sign off on the installation, take the steps to ensure you get what you asked for and will be paying for. Is it properly installed along the route specified? Has every bit of it been inspected visually for proper installation and workmanship? Does it meet its design specifications? Was every fiber tested? Has the documentation been updated to as delivered and does it represent what the original design called for?

FOA Guidelines For Installation Deliverables  

Save leftovers for future restoration
Every project ends up with leftovers - extra cable and hardware - because you have to plan for variations between design lengths and actual lengths, service loops at splices, etc. After the project is finished, plan on taking some extra cable and a few splice closures and storing it with a copy of the documentation in a special place - label it "Restoration" - where you can find it when you need it. This simple step will make restoration much easier and faster when you have problems.

FOA Guidelines For Restoration  

All managers should learn enough fiber optics to understand and manage the project 
(We weren't sure if this should be first or last!)
Designing and building a fiber optic communications system involves quite a bit of unique knowledge, Managers need to know enough to communicate with the specialized fiber optic techs who do the actual design and installation to properly evaluate the progress of the installation. That means understanding how the network works, what proper installation and workmanship looks like, even how to evaluate test results submitted at the completion of the cable plant. And they need to be able to understand the documentation on the network to ensure it's done correctly at the beginning, followed properly during installation and 100% completed when the project is finished. Managers should gain that knowledge before starting the project.

Take a free basic fiber optic course online at FOA's Fiber U  

More Links

The FOA Guide - almost 1,000 files of technical information including sections on Fiber Optic Network Design and Installation

The FOA Reference Guide To Fiber Optic Projects  

Installation Checklist  


(C)2024, The Fiber Optic Association, Inc.