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Black Box Explains... Guidelines for choosing fiber optic cable.

Fiber optic cable is becoming one of the fastest-growing transmission mediums for both new cabling installations and upgrades, including backbone, horizontal, and even desktop applications. It’s favored for applications that... more/see it nowneed high bandwidth, long distances, and complete immunity to electrical interference.

It’s ideal for high-data-rate systems such as Gigabit Ethernet, FDDI, multimedia, ATM, SONET, Fibre Channel, or any other network that requires the transfer of large, bandwidth-consuming data files, particularly over long distances.

Fiber offers the following advantages:

Greater bandwidth—Because fiber provides far greater bandwidth than copper and has proven performance at rates up to 10 Gbps, it gives network designers future-proofing capabilities as network speeds and requirements increase.

Also, fiber optic cable can carry more information with greater fidelity than copper wire. That’s why the telephone networks use fiber and many CATV companies are converting to fiber.

Low attenuation and greater distance—Because the fiber optic signal is made of light, very little signal loss occurs during transmission, and data can move at higher speeds and greater distances. Fiber does not have the 100-meter (328-ft.) distance limitation of unshielded twisted-pair copper (without a booster). Fiber distances can range from 300 meters (984.2 ft.) to 40 kilometers (24.8 mi.), depending on the style of cable, wavelength, and network. (Fiber distances are typically measured in metric units.) Because fiber signals need less boosting than copper ones do, the cable performs better.

Security—Your data is safe with fiber cable. It doesn’t radiate signals and is extremely difficult to tap. If the cable is tapped, it’s very easy to monitor because the cable leaks light, causing the entire system to fail. If an attempt is made to break the physical security of your fiber system, you’ll know it.

Fiber networks also enable you to put all your electronics and hardware in one central location, instead of having wiring closets with equipment throughout the building.

Immunity and reliability—Fiber provides extremely reliable data transmission. It’s completely immune to many environmental factors that affect copper cable. The core is made of glass, which is an insulator, so no electric current can flow through. It’s immune to electromagnetic interference and radio-frequency interference (EMI/RFI), crosstalk, impedance problems, and more. You can run fiber cable next to industrial equipment without worry. Fiber is also less susceptible to temperature fluctuations than copper and can be submerged in water.

Design—Fiber is lightweight, thin, and more durable than copper cable. Plus, fiber optic cable has pulling specifications that are up to 10 times greater than copper cable’s. Its small size makes it easier to handle, and it takes up much less space in cabling ducts. Although fiber is still more difficult to terminate than copper, advancements in connectors are making termination easier. In addition, fiber is actually easier to test than copper cable.

Migration—The proliferation and lower costs of media converters are making copper to fiber migration much easier. The converters provide seamless links and enable the use of existing hardware. Fiber can be incorporated into networks in planned upgrades.

Standards—TIA/EIA standards are bringing fiber closer to the desktop. TIA/EIA-785, ratified in 2001, provides a cost-effective migration path from 10-Mbps Ethernet to 100-Mbps Fast Ethernet over fiber (100BASE-SX). An addendum to the standard eliminates limitations in transceiver designs. In addition, in June 2002, the IEEE approved a 10-Gigabit Ethernet (10-GbE) standard.

Costs—The cost for fiber cable, components, and hardware is steadily decreasing. Installation costs for fiber are higher than copper because of the skill needed for terminations. Overall, fiber is more expensive than copper in the short run, but it may actually be less expensive in the long run. Fiber typically costs less to maintain, has much less downtime, and requires less networking hardware. And fiber eliminates the need to recable for higher network performance.

Types of fiber cable and standards.

Multimode, 50- and 62.5-micron cable—Multimode cable has a large-diameter core and multiple pathways of light. It comes in two core sizes: 50-micron and 62.5-micron.

Multimode fiber optic cable can be used for most general data and voice fiber applications, such as bringing fiber to the desktop, adding segments to an existing network, and in smaller applications such as alarm systems. Both 50- and 62.5-micron cable feature the same cladding diameter of 125 microns, but 50-micron fiber cable features a smaller core (the light-carrying portion of the fiber).

Although both can be used in the same way, 50-micron cable is recommended for premise applications (backbone, horizontal, and intrabuilding connections) and should be considered for any new construction and installations. Both also use either LED or laser light sources. The big difference between the two is that 50-micron cable provides longer link lengths and/or higher speeds, particularly in the 850-nm wavelength.

Single-mode, 8–10-micron cable—Single-mode cable has a small 8–10-micron glass core and only one pathway of light. With only a single wavelength of light passing through its core, single-mode cable realigns the light toward the center of the core instead of simply bouncing it off the edge of the core as multimode does.

Single-mode cable provides 50 times more distance than multimode cable. Consequently, single-mode cable is typically used in long-haul network connections spread out over extended areas, including cable television and campus backbone applications. Telcos use it for connections between switching offices. Single-mode cable also provides higher bandwidth, so you can use a pair of single-mode fiber strands full-duplex for up to twice the throughput of multimode fiber. collapse

Black Box Explains...Category 6.

Category 6 (CAT6)–Class E has a specified frequency of 250 MHz, significantly improved bandwidth capacity over CAT5e, and easily handles Gigabit Ethernet transmissions. In recent years, it has been the... more/see it nowcable of choice for new structured cabling systems. CAT6 supports 1000BASE-T and, depending on the installation, 10GBASE-T (10-GbE).

10-GbE over CAT6 introduces the problem of Alien Crosstalk (ANEXT), the unwanted coupling of signals between adjacent pairs and cables. Because ANEXT in CAT6 10-GbE networks is so dependent on installation practices, TSB-155 qualifies 10-GbE over CAT6 up to 55 meters and requires it to be 100% tested. To mitigate ANEXT in CAT6, it is recommended that you unbundle the cables and increase the separation between the cables.

You can always contact Black Box Tech Support to answer your cabling questions. Our techs can recommend cable testers and steer you in the right direction when you’re installing new cabling. And the advice is FREE! collapse

Black Box Explains...Layer 2, 3, and 4 switches.

...more/see it now
OSI Layer Physical
7-Application Applicaton Software

LAN-Compatible Software
E-Mail, Diagnostics, Word Processing, Database

Network Applications
6-Presentation Data-
Conversion Utilities
Vendor-Specific Network Shells and Gateway™ Workstation Software
5-Session Network Operating System SPX NetBIOS DECnet™ TCP/IP AppleTalk®
4-Transport Novell® NetWare® IPX™ PC LAN LAN Mgr DECnet PC/TCP® VINES™ NFS TOPS® Apple
3-Network Control
2-Data Link Network E A TR P TR E TR E E E P E P
1-Physical E=Ethernet; TR=Token Ring; A=ARCNET®; P=PhoneNET®

With the rapid development of computer networks over the last decade, high-end switching has become one of the most important functions on a network for moving data efficiently and quickly from one place to another.

Here’s how a switch works: As data passes through the switch, it examines addressing information attached to each data packet. From this information, the switch determines the packet’s destination on the network. It then creates a virtual link to the destination and sends the packet there.

The efficiency and speed of a switch depends on its algorithms, its switching fabric, and its processor. Its complexity is determined by the layer at which the switch operates in the OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) Reference Model (see above).

OSI is a layered network design framework that establishes a standard so that devices from different vendors work together. Network addresses are based on this OSI Model and are hierarchical. The more details that are included, the more specific the address becomes and the easier it is to find.

The Layer at which the switch operates is determined by how much addressing detail the switch reads as data passes through.

Switches can also be considered low end or high end. A low-end switch operates in Layer 2 of the OSI Model and can also operate in a combination of Layers 2 and 3. High-end switches operate in Layer 3, Layer 4, or a combination of the two.

Layer 2 Switches (The Data-Link Layer)

Layer 2 switches operate using physical network addresses. Physical addresses, also known as link-layer, hardware, or MAC-layer addresses, identify individual devices. Most hardware devices are permanently assigned this number during the manufacturing process.

Switches operating at Layer 2 are very fast because they’re just sorting physical addresses, but they usually aren’t very smart—that is, they don’t look at the data packet very closely to learn anything more about where it’s headed.

Layer 3 Switches (The Network Layer)

Layer 3 switches use network or IP addresses that identify locations on the network. They read network addresses more closely than Layer 2 switches—they identify network locations as well as the physical device. A location can be a LAN workstation, a location in a computer’s memory, or even a different packet of data traveling through a network.

Switches operating at Layer 3 are smarter than Layer 2 devices and incorporate routing functions to actively calculate the best way to send a packet to its destination. But although they’re smarter, they may not be as fast if their algorithms, fabric, and processor don’t support high speeds.

Layer 4 Switches (The Transport Layer)

Layer 4 of the OSI Model coordinates communications between systems. Layer 4 switches are capable of identifying which application protocols (HTTP, SNTP, FTP, and so forth) are included with each packet, and they use this information to hand off the packet to the appropriate higher-layer software. Layer 4 switches make packet-forwarding decisions based not only on the MAC address and IP address, but also on the application to which a packet belongs.

Because Layer 4 devices enable you to establish priorities for network traffic based on application, you can assign a high priority to packets belonging to vital in-house applications such as Peoplesoft, with different forwarding rules for low-priority packets such as generic HTTP-based Internet traffic.

Layer 4 switches also provide an effective wire-speed security shield for your network because any company- or industry-specific protocols can be confined to only authorized switched ports or users. This security feature is often reinforced with traffic filtering and forwarding features.


Black Box Explains...DIN rail.

DIN rail is an industry-standard metal rail, usually installed inside an electrical enclosure, which serves as a mount for small electrical devices specially designed for use with DIN rails. These... more/see it nowdevices snap right onto the rails, sometimes requiring a set screw, and are then wired together.

Many different devices are available for mounting on DIN rails: terminal blocks, interface converters, media converter switches, repeaters, surge protectors, PLCs, fuses, or power supplies, just to name a few.

DIN rails are a space-saving way to accommodate components. And because DIN rail devices are so easy to install, replace, maintain, and inspect, this is an exceptionally convenient system that has become very popular in recent years.

A standard DIN rail is 35 mm wide with raised-lip edges, its dimensions outlined by the Deutsche Institut für Normung, a German standardization body. Rails are generally available in aluminum or steel and may be cut for installation. Depending on the requirements of the mounted components, the rail may need to be grounded. collapse

Black Box Explains...Industrial Ethernet (Ethernet/IP) and IP-rated connectors.

Ethernet technology is coming to the factory floor. Once limited to office environments, Ethernet has proven to be a robust alternative to the RS-232 interface traditionally used with industrial devices... more/see it nowsuch as programmable logic controllers. Ethernet brings speed, versatility, and cost savings to industrial environments.

The requirements of industrial environments are different than offices, so there are industrial Ethernet standards. The most common is the Ethernet/Industrial Protocol (Ethernet/IP) standard, usually called Industrial Ethernet. Industrial Ethernet adapts ordinary, off-the-shelf IEEE 802.3 Ethernet communication chips and physical media to industrial applications.

The Ingress Protection (IP) ratings developed by the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) specify the environmental protection an enclosure provides.

An IP rating consists of two or three numbers. The first number refers to protection from solid objects or materials; the second number refers to protection from liquids; and the third number, commonly omitted from the rating, refers to protection against mechanical impacts. An IP67 rating means that a connector is totally protected from dust and from the effects of immersion in 5.9 inches (15 cm) to 3.2 feet (1 m) of water for 30 minutes.

Because office-grade RJ-45 connectors do not stand up to an industrial environment, the Ethernet/IP standard calls for sealed industrial RJ-45 connectors that meet an IP67 standard, meaning the connectors are sealed against dust and water. collapse

Black Box Explains...Single-strand fiber WDM.

Traditional fiber optic media converters perform a useful function but don’t really reduce the amount of cable needed to send data on a fiber segment. They still require two strands... more/see it nowof glass to send transmit and receive signals for fiber media communications. Wouldn’t it be better to combine these two logical communication paths within one strand?

That’s exactly what single-strand fiber conversion does. It compresses the transmit and receive wavelengths into one single-mode fiber strand.

The conversion is done with Wave-Division Multiplexing (WDM) technology. WDM technology increases the information-carrying capacity of optical fiber by transmitting two signals simultaneously at different wavelengths on the same fiber. The way it usually works is that one unit transmits at 1310 nm and receives at 1550 nm. The other unit transmits at 1550 nm and receives at 1310 nm. The two wavelengths operate independently and don’t interfere with each other. This bidirectional traffic flow effectively converts a single fiber into a pair of “virtual fibers,” each driven independently at different wavelengths.

Although most implementations of WDM on single-strand fiber offer two channels, four-channel versions are just being introduced, and versions offering as many as 10 channels with Gigabit capacity are on the horizon.

WDM on single-strand fiber is most often used for point-to-point links on a long-distance network. It’s also used to increase network capacity or relieve network congestion. collapse

Black Box Explains...16850 UART.

The 16850 Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter (UART) features a 128-byte First In First Out (FIFO) buffer. When implemented with the appropriate onboard drivers and receivers, it enables your onboard serial ports... more/see it nowto achieve sustained data rates of up to 460.8 kbps.

The 16850 UART includes automatic handshaking (RTS/CTS) and automatic RS-485 line control. It also features external clocking for isochronous applications, a performance enhancement not offered by earlier UARTs. collapse

Black Box Explains...DDS vs. T1.

DDS (Digital Data Service) is an AT&T® service that transmits data digitally over dedicated leased lines. DDS lines use four wires, and support speeds up to 56 kbps; however, DDS... more/see it nowis actually a 64-kbps circuit with 8 kbps being used for signaling. You can also get 64-kbps (ClearChannel™) service. Since the transmission is digital, no modems are needed. Dedicated digital lines are ideal for point-to-point links in wide-area networks.

T1 is a dedicated transmission line operating at 1.544 Mbps. It’s comprised of 24 DSOs, each supporting speeds of 64 kbps. The user sends data at N x 56 or N x 64 over T1 circuits. T1 operates over twisted-pair cable and is suitable for voice, data, and image transmissions on long-distance networks. collapse

Black Box Explains...IRQs, COM Ports, and Windows

Windows® 95 normally requires each serial port to have its own unique Interrupt Request Line (IRQ). However, if you use a third-party communications driver that supports IRQ sharing, you can... more/see it nowshare interrupts. Unfortunately, data throughput will not be as high as with single interrupt port configurations.

With Windows NT®, you can share interrupts across multiple ports as long as the serial ports have an Interrupt Status Port (ISP) built into the card.

The Interrupt Service Routine, a software routine that services interrupts and requests processor time, reads the ISP and is immmediately directed to the port that has an interrupt pending. Compared to the polling method used if the serial ports don’t have an ISP, this feature can determine which port generated the interrupt up to four times more efficiently—and it almost eliminates the risk of lost data. Windows NT supports the ISP by enabling the user to configure the registry to match the card’s settings. Black Box models IC102C-R3, IC058C, and IC112C-R3 all have ISPs and come with a Windows NT setup utility to simplify installation and configuration.

If your serial port doesn’t have an ISP, the Interrupt Service Routine has to poll each port separately to determine which port generated the interrupt. collapse

Fiber optic cable construction and types.

Multimode vs. single-mode
Multimode cable has a large-diameter core and multiple pathways of light. It is most commonly available in two core sizes: 50-micron and 62.5-micron.

Multimode fiber optic cable can... more/see it nowbe used for most general data and voice fiber applications such as adding segments to an existing network, and in smaller applications such as alarm systems and bringing fiber to the desktop. Both multimode cable cores use either LED or laser light sources.

Multimode 50-micron cable is recommended for premise applications?(backbone, horizontal, and intrabuilding connections). It should be considered for any new construction and for installations because it provides longer link lengths and/or higher speeds, particularly in the 850-nm wavelength, than 62.5-micron cable does.

Multimode cable commonly has an orange or aqua jacket; single-mode has yellow. Other colors are available for various applications and for identification purposes.

Single-mode cable has a small (8–10-micron) glass core and only one pathway of light. With only a single wavelength of light passing through its core, single-mode cable realigns the light toward the center of the core instead of simply bouncing it off the edge of the core as multimode does.

Single-mode cable provides 50 times more distance than multimode cable does. Consequently, single-mode cable is typically used in high-bandwidth applications and in long-haul network connections spread out over extended areas, including cable television and campus backbone applications. Telcos use it for connections between switching offices. Single-mode cable also provides higher bandwidth, so you can use a pair of single-mode fiber strands full-duplex at more than twice the throughput of multimode fiber.

Fiber optic cable consists of a core, cladding, coating, buffer strengthening fibers, and cable jacket.

The core is the physical medium that transports optical data signals from an attached light source to a receiving device. It is a single continuous strand of glass or plastic that’s measured (in microns) by the size of its outer diameter.

All fiber optic cable is sized according to its core’s outer diameter. The two multimode sizes most commonly available are 50 and 62.5 microns. Single-mode cores are generally less than 9 microns.

The cladding is a thin layer that surrounds the fiber core and serves as a boundary that contains the light waves and causes the refraction, enabling data to travel throughout the length of the fiber segment.

The coating is a layer of plastic that surrounds the core and cladding to reinforce the fiber core, help absorb shocks, and provide extra protection against excessive cable bends. These coatings are measured in microns (µ); the coating is 250µ and the buffer is 900µ.

Strengthening fibers help protect the core against crushing forces and excessive tension during installation. This material is generally Kevlar® yarn strands within the cable jacket.

The cable jacket is the outer layer of any cable. Most fiber optic cables have an orange jacket, although some types can have black, yellow, aqua or other color jackets. Various colors can be used to designate different applications within a network.

Simplex vs. duplex patch cables
Multimode and single-mode patch cables can be simplex or duplex.

Simplex has one fiber, while duplex zipcord has two fibers joined with a thin web. Simplex (also known as single strand) and duplex zipcord cables are tight-buffered and jacketed, with Kevlar strength members.

Because simplex fiber optic cable consists of only one fiber link, you should use it for applications that only require one-way data transfer. For instance, an interstate trucking scale that sends the weight of the truck to a monitoring station or an oil line monitor that sends data about oil flow to a central location.

Use duplex multimode or single-mode fiber optic cable for applications that require simultaneous, bidirectional data transfer. Workstations, fiber switches and servers, Ethernet switches, backbone ports, and similar hardware require duplex cable.

PVC (riser) vs. plenum-rated
PVC cable (also called riser-rated cable even though not all PVC cable is riser-rated) features an outer polyvinyl chloride jacket that gives off toxic fumes when it burns. It can be used for horizontal and vertical runs, but only if the building features a contained ventilation system. Plenum can replace PVC, but PVC cannot be used in plenum spaces.

“Riser-rated” means that the jacket is fire-resistant. However, it can still give off noxious fumes when overheated. The cable carries an OFNR rating and is not for use in plenums.

Plenum-jacketed cables have FEP, such as Teflon®, which emits less toxic fumes when it burns. A plenum is a space within the building designed for the movement of environmental air. In most office buildings, the space above the ceiling is used for the HVAC air return. If cable goes through that space, it must be “plenum-rated.”

Distribution-style vs. breakout-style
Distribution-style cables have several tight-buffered fibers bundled under the same jacket with Kevlar or fiberglass rod reinforcement. These cables are small in size and are typically used within a building for short, dry conduit runs, in either riser or plenum applications. The fibers can be directly terminated, but because the fibers are not individually reinforced, these cables need to be terminated inside a patch panel, junction box, fiber enclosure, or cabinet.

Breakout-style cables are made of several simplex cables bundled together, making a strong design that is larger than distribution cables. Breakout cables are suitable for riser and plenum applications.

Loose-tube vs. tight-buffered
Both loose-tube and tight-buffered cables contain some type of strengthening member, such as aramid yarn, stainless steel wire strands, or even gel-filled sleeves. But each is designed for very different environments.

Loose-tube cable is specifically designed for harsh outdoor environments. It protects the fiber core, cladding, and coating by enclosing everything within semi-rigid protective sleeves or tubes. Many loose-tube cables also have a water-resistant gel that surrounds the fibers. This gel helps protect them from moisture, so the cables are great for harsh, high-humidity environments where water or condensation can be a problem. The gel-filled tubes can also expand and contract with temperature changes. Gel-filled loose-tube cable is not the best choice for indoor applications.

Tight-buffered cable, in contrast, is optimized for indoor applications. Because it’s sturdier than loose-tube cable, it’s best suited for moderate-length LAN/WAN connections, or long indoor runs. It’s easier to install as well, because there’s no messy gel to clean up and it doesn’t require a fan-out kit for splicing or termination.

Indoor/outdoor cable
Indoor/outdoor cable uses dry-block technology to seal ruptures against moisture seepage and gel-filled buffer tubes to halt moisture migration. Comprised of a ripcord, core binder, a flame-retardant layer, overcoat, aramid yarn, and an outer jacket, it is designed for aerial, duct, tray, and riser applications.

Interlocking armored cable
This fiber cable is jacketed in aluminum interlocking armor so it can be run just about anywhere in a building. Ideal for harsh environments, it is rugged and rodent resistant. No conduit is needed, so it’s a labor- and money-saving alternative to using innerducts for fiber cable runs.

Outside-plant cable is used in direct burials. It delivers optimum performance in extreme conditions and is terminated within 50 feet of a building entrance. It blocks water and is rodent-resistant.

Interlocking armored cable is lightweight and flexible but also extraordinarily strong. It is ideal for out-of-the-way premise links.

Laser-optimized 10-Gigabit cable
Laser-optimized multimode fiber cable assemblies differ from standard multimode cable assemblies because they have graded refractive index profile fiber optic cable in each assembly. This means that the refractive index of the core glass decreases toward the outer cladding, so the paths of light towards the outer edge of the fiber travel quicker than the other paths. This increase in speed equalizes the travel time for both short and long light paths, ensuring accurate information transmission and receipt over much greater distances, up to 300 meters at 10 Gbps.

Laser-optimized multimode fiber cable is ideal for premise networking applications that include long distances. It is usually aqua colored.


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