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The difference between unmanaged, managed, and Web-smart switches

With regard to management options, the three primary classes of switches are unmanaged, managed, and Web smart. Which you choose depends largely on the size of your network and how... more/see it nowmuch control you need over that network.

Unmanaged switches are basic plug-and-play switches with no remote configuration, management, or monitoring options, although many can be locally monitored and configured via LED indicators and DIP switches. These inexpensive switches are typically used in small networks or to add temporary workgroups to larger networks.

Managed switches support Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) via embedded agents and have a command line interface (CLI) that can be accessed via serial console, Telnet, and Secure Shell. These switches can often be configured and managed as groups. More recent managed switches may also support a Web interface for management through a Web browser.

These high-end switches enable network managers to remotely access a wide range of capabilities including:

  • SNMP monitoring.
  • Enabling and disabling individual ports or port Auto MDI/MDI-X.
  • Port bandwidth and duplex control.
  • IP address management.
  • MAC address filtering.
  • Spanning Tree.
  • Port mirroring to monitor network traffic.
  • Prioritization of ports for quality of service (QoS).
  • VLAN settings.
  • 802.1X network access control.
  • IGMP snooping.
  • Link aggregation or trunking.

  • Managed switches, with their extensive management capabilities, are at home in large enterprise networks where network administrators need to monitor and control a large number of network devices. Managed switches support redundancy protocols for increased network availability.

    Web-smart switches—sometimes called smart switches or Web-managed switches—have become a popular option for mid-sized networks that require management. They offer access to switch management features such as port monitoring, link aggregation, and VPN through a simple Web interface via an embedded Web browser. What these switches generally do not have is SNMP management capabilities or a CLI. Web-smart switches must usually be managed individually rather than in groups.

    Although the management features found in a Web-smart switch are less extensive than those found in a fully managed switch, these switches are becoming smarter with many now offering many of the features of a fully managed switch. Like managed switches, they also support redundancy protocols for increased network availability.


    Black Box Explains...Media converters.

    Media converters interconnect different cable types such as twisted pair, fiber, and coax within an existing network. They are often used to connect newer Ethernet equipment to legacy cabling.... more/see it nowThey can also be used in pairs to insert a fiber segment into copper networks to increase cabling distances and enhance immunity to electromagnetic interference (EMI).

    Traditional media converters are purely Layer 1 devices that only convert electrical signals and physical media. They don’t do anything to the data coming through the link so they’re totally transparent to data. These converters have two ports—one port for each media type. Layer 1 media converters only operate at one speed and cannot, for instance, support both 10-Mbps and 100-Mbps Ethernet.

    Some media converters are more advanced Layer 2 Ethernet devices that, like traditional media converters, provide Layer 1 electrical and physical conversion. But, unlike traditional media converters, they also provide Layer 2 services—in other words, they’re really switches. This kind of media converter often has more than two ports, enabling you to, for instance, extend two or more copper links across a single fiber link. They also often feature autosensing ports on the copper side, making them useful for linking segments operating at different speeds.

    Media converters are available in standalone models that convert between two different media types and in chassis-based models that connect many different media types in a single housing.

    Rent an apartment

    Standalone converters convert between two media. But, like a small apartment, they can be outgrown. Consider your current and future applications before selecting a media converter. Standalone converters are available in many configurations, including 10BASE-T to multimode or single-mode fiber, 10BASE-T to Thin coax (ThinNet), 10BASE-T to thick coax (standard Ethernet), CDDI to FDDI, and Thin coax to fiber. 100BASE-T and 100BASE-FX models that connect UTP to single- or multimode fiber are also available. With the development of Gigabit Ethernet (1000 Mbps), media converters have been created to make the transition to high-speed networks easier.

    ...or buy a house.

    Chassis-based or modular media converters are normally rackmountable and have slots that house media converter modules. Like a well-planned house, the chassis gives you room to grow. These are used when many Ethernet segments of different media types need to be connected in a central location. Modules are available for the same conversions performed by the standalone converters, and 10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 100BASE-FX, and Gigabit modules may also be mixed.


    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…SFP compatibility.

    Standards for SFP fiber optic media are published in the SFP Multi-Source Agreement, which specifies size, connectors, and signaling for SFPs, with the idea that all SFPs are compatible with... more/see it nowdevices that have appropriate SFP slots. These standards, which also extend to SFP+ and XFP transceivers, enable users to mix and match components from different vendors to meet their own particular requirements.

    However, some major manufacturers, notably Cisco®, HP®, and 3Com®, sell network devices with SFP slots that lock out transceivers from other vendors. Because the price of SFPs—especially Gigabit SFPs and 10GBASE SFP+ and XFP transceivers—can add significantly to the price of a switch, this lock-out scheme raises hardware costs and limits transceiver choices.

    Many vendors don’t advertise that SFP slots on their devices don’t accept standard SFPs from other vendors. This can lead to unpleasant surprises when a device simply refuses to communicate with an SFP.

    Another game that some vendors play is to build devices that accept open-standard SFPs, but refuse to support those devices when SFPs from another vendor are used with them.

    The only way around this “lock-in” practice is to only buy network devices that accept standard SFPs from all vendors and to buy from vendors that support their devices no matter whose SFPs are used with them. Questions? Call our FREE Tech Support at 724-746-5500. collapse

    Black Box Explains...LAN switches.

    Rush hour-all day, every day.

    Applications such as document imaging, video/multimedia production, and intranetworking are very demanding. They generate huge data files that often must be transferred... more/see it nowbetween stations based on strict timing requirements. If such traffic is not transmitted efficiently, you end up with jerky video, on-screen graphics that take forever to load, or other irritating, debilitating problems.

    These problems arise because in traditional LANs, only one network node transmits data at a time while all other stations listen. This works in conventional, server-based LANs where multiple workstations share files or applications housed on a central server. But if a network has several servers, or if it supports high-bandwidth, peer-to-peer applications such as videoconferencing, the one-station-at-a-time model just doesn’t work.

    Ideally, each LAN workstation should be configured with its own dedicated LAN cable segment. But that’s neither practical nor affordable. A far more reasonable solution is a network designed to provide clear paths from each workstation to its destination on demand, whether that destination is another workstation or server.

    These vehicles clear the lanes.

    Unlike bridges and routers, which process data packets on an individual, first-come, first-served basis, switches maintain multiple, simultaneous data conversions among attached LAN segments.

    From the perspective of an end-user workstation, a switched circuit appears to be a dedicated connection-a direct, full-speed LAN link to an attached server or other remote LAN node. Although this technique is somewhat different from what a LAN bridge or router does, switching hubs are based on similar technologies.

    Which route will you choose?

    Switching hubs that use bridging technologies are called Layer 2 switches-a reference to Layer 2 or the Data-Link Layer of the OSI Model. These switches operate using the MAC addresses in Layer 2 and are transparent to network protocols. Switches that use routing technologies are known as Layer 3 switches, referring to Layer 3—the Network Layer—of the OSI Model. These switches, like routers, represent the next higher level of intelligence in the hardware hierarchy. Rather than passing packets based on MAC addresses, these switches look into the data structure and route it based on the network addresses found in Layer 3. They are also dependent on the network protocol.

    Layer 2 switches connect different parts of the same network as determined by the network number contained with the data packet. Layer 3 switches connect LANs or LAN segments with different network numbers.

    If you’re subdividing an existing LAN, obviously you’re dealing with only one network and one network number, so you can install a Layer 2 switch wherever it will segment network traffic the best, and you don’t have to reconfigure the LAN. However, if you use a Layer 3 switch, you’ll have to reconfigure the segments to ensure that each has a different network number.

    Similarly, if you’re connecting existing networks, you have to examine the currently configured network numbers before adding a switch. If the network numbers are the same, you need to use a Layer 2 switch. If they’re different, you must use a Layer 3 switch.

    When dealing with multiple existing networks, you’ll find they usually use different network numbers. In this case, it’s preferable to use a Layer 3 switch (or possibly even a full-featured router) to avoid reconfiguring the network.

    But what if you’re designing a network from scratch and can choose either type of switch? Your decision should be based on the expected complexity of your LAN. Layer 3 routing technology is well suited for complex networks. Layer 2 switches are recommended for smaller, less complex networks.


    Black Box Explains... How Autocross conversion can work for you.

    When using media converters with 10BASE-T or 100BASE-TX cable, you may need to connect your converter to a non-hub device such as a PC or printer.

    According to IEEE 802.3 Ethernet... more/see it nowstandards, media converters originally needed a specially pinned crossover cable to connect to PCs. The crossover cable matches the devices’ transmit and receive pins. Now there are media converters that use straight-pinned 10BASE-T patch cable but incorporate an uplink or crossover connection—a switch on the converter that’s set to support the PC-to-converter connection. By setting the uplink switch to “cross,” the converter’s internal mechanism crosses the pins on the RJ-45 connector to simulate a crossover cable.

    Autocross conversion eliminates both the need to crosspin cables and set an uplink switch. It adapts to the pin assignment of the twisted-pair cable whether it’s crossed or uncrossed. And because it senses the pin configuration of any cable pinned to Ethernet specifications, it adjusts automatically without user configuration. collapse

    Black Box Explains...Terminal Servers

    A terminal server (sometimes called a serial server) is a hardware device that enables you to connect serial devices across a network.

    Terminal servers acquired their name because they were originally... more/see it nowused for long-distance connection of dumb terminals to large mainframe systems such as VAX™. Today, the name terminal server refers to a device that connects any serial device to a network, usually Ethernet. In this day of network-ready devices, terminal servers are not as common as they used to be, but they’re still frequently used for applications such as remote connection of PLCs, sensors, or automatic teller machines.

    The primary advantage of terminal servers is that they save you the cost of running separate RS-232 devices. By using a network, you can connect serial devices even over very long distances—as far as your network stretches. It’s even possible to connect serial devices across the Internet. A terminal server connects the remote serial device to the network, and then another terminal server somewhere else on the network connects to the other serial device.

    Terminal servers act as virtual serial ports by providing the appropriate connectors for serial data and also by grouping serial data in both directions into Ethernet TCP/IP packets. This conversion enables you to connect serial devices across Ethernet without the need for software changes.

    Because terminal servers send data across a network, security is a consideration. If your network is isolated, you can get by with an inexpensive terminal server that has few or no security functions. If, however, you’re using a terminal server to make network connections across a network that’s also an Internet subnet, you should look for a terminal server that offers extensive security features. collapse

    Black Box Explains...Why media converters need SNMP.

    The number of Ethernet switches and fiber optic segments being added to Ethernet networks keeps increasing. And as long as most Ethernet switches are only available with 10BASE-T and 100BASE-TX... more/see it nowinterfaces, media converters will remain in demand.

    Until now, a failure on the network could go unnoticed. Once a failure was detected, it could take a long time to isolate it, especially if a technician had to be sent to the site. But media converters with SNMP eliminate some of the guesswork.

    With SNMP, the IS manager can detect a failure, isolate it to a specific port, and determine what hardware is required to repair it. A technician can then be sent directly to the right place to fix faulty hardware or repair a broken cable.

    SNMP enables you to set up alarms or traps when a link is down. You can turn features on and off from a central terminal, so there’s no need to leave your desk. You can also monitor power supplies and replace them without interrupting service. SNMP management reduces the time and money it takes to get your network up and running again. The users on your network will notice—and appreciate—the improved service and reliability. collapse

    Black Box Explains...T1 and E1.

    If you manage a heavy-traffic data network and demand high bandwidth for high speeds, you need digital super-fast T1 or E1.

    Both T1 and E1 are foundations of global communications. Developed... more/see it nowmore than 35 years ago and commercially available since 1983, T1 and E1 go virtually anywhere phone lines go, but they’re much faster. T1, used primarily in the U.S., sends data up to 1.544 Mbps; E1, used primarily in Europe, supports speeds to 2.048 Mbps. No matter where you need to connect—North, South, or Central America, Europe, or the Pacific Rim—T1 and E1 can get your data there fast!

    T1 and E1 are versatile, too. Drive a private, point-to-point line; provide corporate access to the Internet; enable inbound access to your Web Server—even support a voice/data/fax/video WAN that extends halfway around the world! T1 and E1 are typically used for:
    • Accessing public Frame Relay networks or Public Switched Telephone Networks (PSTNs) for voice or fax.
    • Merging voice and data traffic. A single T1 or E1 line can support voice and data simultaneously.
    • Making super-fast LAN connections. Today’s faster Ethernet speeds require the very high throughput provided by one or more T1 or E1 lines.
    • Sending bandwidth-intensive data such as CAD/CAM, MRI, CAT-scan images, and other large files.

    Scaling T1
    Basic T1 service supplies a bandwidth of 1.536 Mbps. However, many of today’s applications demand much more bandwidth. Or perhaps you only need a portion of the 1.536 Mbps that T1 supplies. One of T1’s best features is that it can be scaled up or down to provide just the right amount of bandwidth for any application.

    A T1 channel consists of 24 64-kbps DS0 (Digital Signal [Zero]) subchannels that combine to provide 1.536 Mbps throughput. Because they enable you to combine T1 lines or to use only part of a T1, DS0s make T1 a very flexible standard.

    If you don’t need 1.536 Mbps, your T1 service provider can rent you a portion of a T1 line, called Fractional T1. For instance, you can contract for half a T1 line—768 kbps—and get the use of DS0s 1–12. The service provider is then free to sell DS0s 13–24 to another customer.

    If you require more than 1.536 Mbps, two or more T1 lines can be combined to provide very-high-speed throughput. The next step up from T1 is T1C; it offers two T1 lines multiplexed together for a total throughput of 3.152 on 48 DS0s. Or consider T2 and get 6.312 Mbps over 96 DS0s by multiplexing four T1 lines together to form one high-speed connection.

    Moving up the scale of high-speed T1 services is T3. T3 is 28 T1 lines multiplexed together for a blazing throughput of 44.736 Mbps, consisting of 672 DS0s, each of which supports 64 kbps.

    Finally there’s T4. It consists of 4032 64-kbps DS0 subchannels for a whopping 274.176 Mbps of bandwidth—that’s 168 times the size of a single T1 line!

    These various levels of T1 service can by implemented simulta-neously within a large enterprise network. Of course, this has the potential to become somewhat overwhelming from a management standpoint. But as long as you keep track of DS0s, you always know exactly how much bandwidth you have at your disposal.

    T1’s cousin, E1, can also have multiple lines merged to provide greater throughput. collapse

    Black Box Explains...Fiber.

    Fiber versus copper.

    When planning a new or upgraded cabling infrastructure, you have two basic choices: fiber or copper. Both offer superior data transmission. The decision on which one... more/see it nowto use may be difficult. It will often depend on your current network, your future networking needs, and your particular application, including bandwidth, distances, environment, cost, and more. In some cases, copper may be a better choice; in other situations, fiber offers advantages.

    Although copper cable is currently more popular and much more predominant in structured cabling systems and networks, fiber is quickly gaining fans.

    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. Fiber optic cable is favored for applications that need 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. A common application for fiber optic cable is as a network backbone, where huge amounts of data are transmitted. To help you decide if fiber is right for your new network or if you want to migrate to fiber, take a look at the following:

    The advantages of fiber.

    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 so data can move at higher speeds and greater distances. Fiber does not have the 100-meter (304.8-ft.) distance limitation of unshielded twisted-pair copper (without a booster). Fiber distances can range from 300 meters to 40 kilometers, 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.

    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.

    Security-Your data is safe with fiber cable. It does not 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 security of your fiber system, you’ll know it.

    Immunity and reliability-Fiber provides extremely reliable data transmission. It’s completely immune to many environmental factors that affect copper cable. The fiber is made of glass, which is an insulator, so no electric current can flow through. It is 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 is and can be submerged in water.

    Design-Fiber is lightweight, thin, and more durable than copper cable. And, contrary to what you might think, fiber optic cable has pulling specifications that are up to ten 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 is, advancements in connectors are making temination 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-New 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). A recent addendum to the standard eliminates limitations in transceiver designs. In addition, in June 2002, the IEEE approved a 10-Gigabit Ethernet 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.

    Multimode or single-mode, duplex or simplex?

    Multimode-Multimode fiber optic cable can be used for most general fiber applications. Use multimode fiber for bringing fiber to the desktop, for adding segments to your existing network, or in smaller applications such as alarm systems. Multimode cable comes with two different core sizes: 50 micron or 62.5 micron.

    Single-mode-Single-mode is used over distances longer than a few miles. Telcos use it for connections between switching offices. Single-mode cable features an 8.5-micron glass core.

    Duplex-Use duplex multimode or single-mode fiber optic cable for applications that require simultaneous, bidirectional data transfer. Workstations, fiber switches and servers, fiber modems, and similar hardware require duplex cable. Duplex is available in single- and multimode.

    Simplex-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. Simplex fiber comes in single- and multimode types.

    50- vs. 62.5-micron cable.

    Although 50-micron fiber cable features a smaller core, which is the light-carrying portion of the fiber, both 62.5- and 50-micron cable feature the same glass cladding diameter of 125 microns. You can use both in the same types of networks, although 50-micron cable is recommended for premise applications: backbone, horizontal, and intrabuilding connections, and should be considered especially for any new construction and installations. And both can use either LED or laser light sources.

    The big difference between 50-micron and 62.5-micron cable is in bandwidth-50-micron cable features three times the bandwidth of standard 62.5-micron cable, particularly at 850 nm. The 850-nm wavelength is becoming more important as lasers are being used more frequently as a light source.

    Other differences are distance and speed. 50-micron cable provides longer link lengths and/or higher speeds in the 850-nm wavelength. See the table below.

    The ferrules: ceramic or composite?

    As a general rule, use ceramic ferrules for critical network connections such as backbone cables or for connections that will be changed frequently, like those in wiring closets. Ceramic ferrules are more precisely molded and fit closer to the fiber, which gives the fiber optic cables a lower optical loss.

    Use composite ferrules for connections that are less critical to the network’s overall operation and less frequently changed. Like their ceramic counterparts, composite ferrules are characterized by low loss, good quality, and a long life. However, they are not as precisely molded and slightly easier to damage, so they aren’t as well-suited for critical connections.

    Testing and certifying fiber optic cable.

    If you’re accustomed to certifying copper cable, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to certify fiber optic cable because it’s immune to electrical interference. You only need to check a few measurements.

    Attenuation (or decibel loss)-Measured in decibels/kilometer (dB/km), this is the decrease of signal strength as it travels through the fiber cable. Generally, attenuation problems are more common on multimode fiber optic cables.

    Return loss-This is the amount of light reflected from the far end of the cable back to the source. The lower the number, the better. For example, a reading of -60 decibels is better than -20 decibels. Like attenuation, return loss is usually greater with multimode cable.

    Graded refractive index-This measures how the light is sent down the fiber. This is commonly measured at wavelengths of 850 and 1300 nanometers. Compared to other operating frequencies, these two ranges yield the lowest intrinsic power loss. (NOTE: This is valid for multimode fiber only.)

    Propagation delay-This is the time it takes a signal to travel from one point to another over a transmission channel.

    Optical time-domain reflectometry (OTDR)-This enables you to isolate cable faults by transmitting high-frequency pulses onto a cable and examining their reflections along the cable. With OTDR, you can also determine the length of a fiber optic cable because the OTDR value includes the distance the optic signal travels.

    There are many fiber optic testers on the market today. Basic fiber optic testers function by shining a light down one end of the cable. At the other end, there’s a receiver calibrated to the strength of the light source. With this test, you can measure how much light is going to the other end of the cable. Generally, these testers give you the results in dB lost, which you then compare to the loss budget. If the measured loss is less than the number calculated by your loss budget, your installation is good.

    Newer fiber optic testers have a broad range of capabilities. They can test both 850- and 1300-nanometer signals at the same time and can even check your cable for compliance with specific standards.

    Fiber precautions.

    A few properties particular to fiber optic cable can cause problems if you aren’t careful during installation.

    Intrinsic power loss-As the optic signal travels through the fiber core, the signal inevitably loses some speed through absorption, reflection, and scattering. This problem is easy to manage by making sure your splices are good and your connections are clean.

    Microbending-Microbends are minute deviations in fiber caused by excessive bends, pinches, and kinks. Using cable with reinforcing fibers and other special manufacturing techniques minimizes this problem.

    Connector loss-Connector loss occurs when two fiber segments are misaligned. This problem is commonly caused by poor splicing. Scratches and dirt introduced during the splicing process can also cause connector loss.

    Coupling loss-Similar to connector loss, coupling loss results in reduced signal power and is from poorly terminated connector couplings.

    Remember to be careful and use common sense when installing fiber cable. Use clean components. Keep dirt and dust to a minimum. Don’t pull the cable excessively or bend it too sharply around any corners. That way, your fiber optic installation can serve you well for many years.


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