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Inspector clueless? The importance of connector cleanliness as part of your test and diagnostic strategy

Just as you expect a surgeon to thoroughly wash his hands and instruments before engaging in an operation, you should also expect a fiber technician to inspect and clean optical connectors before conducting any operation on a telecom or datacom network. Connector cleanliness and compliance to standards1 should be part of the technician’s DNA, and a key element of any operator’s or provider’s test and diagnostic strategy. In light of this fact, the following statistic is very surprising:

80% of network owners say contamination is the root cause of network failures2

When advising clients on test and diagnostic strategy, I regularly find myself quoting the famous idiom “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”3 Given the pressures on operators to deploy and commission new technologies and services in a timely manner, and to resolve trouble tickets and perform regular maintenance, it astounds me how much time and money is wasted on unnecessary callouts, investigations and witch hunts when operations don’t go to plan. Million-dollar systems (costing thousands of dollars per day of service revenues) can be brought to their knees due to a single and very easily avoidable issue associated with a connector that only costs about FIVE DOLLARS. All of this can be easily avoided with the very simple addition of a single step to the test strategy. Let’s look at that NTT statistic again: 80%. What a tremendous value to your operations if you could reduce four fifths of all callouts through a rigorous procedure that takes a mere 10 seconds. Astounding.

Before continuing, I should mention that keen-eyed readers may have stumbled on my reference to “witch hunt,” and be scratching their heads and asking themselves “Whoa...what’s this all about?” I’m not overexaggerating or being cynical...this comment reflects the voice of experience. Network operations are a complex business, with many different players “touching” the infrastructure at various times―from cabling contractors, system vendors, commissioning teams and subcontractors to the various teams within the operator’s own organization. In this tough world filled with time pressure, leads to revenue and SLAs, the common response is to point fingers and place blame!

The “ounce of prevention” that I preach is very simple: a 10-second addition to the test strategy in order to provide an “as found” and “as left” connector report, and tested compliant to the appropriate IEC standard.1

There are no excuses not to do so, and here’s the proof:

  • The cost of a connector is extremely modest, especially in comparison to thousands of service dollars per hour, and this simple accessory can be easily added on to most test platforms or a laptop.
  • Operation is amazingly simple: EXFO’s 10,000-hours-in-the-box approach means that even a novice user can characterize a connector in under 10 seconds with autocentering, autofocus and auto-analysis.
  • Highly accurate and reliable: Automation completely removes false positives, and also eliminates the dark art whereby disreputable contractors “trick” the analysis system by deliberately defocusing and forcing a “pass” on a fuzzy image.
  • Comprehensive reporting methods: Standalone, integrated into other report functions, with the ability to automatically send the report back via the cloud.

Ask your EXFO contact to give you a demonstration of this simple and foolproof addition to your test strategy, which takes under 5 minutes to master, and under 10 seconds to perform. I’m sure you will agree that this small investment will augment your test strategy and help you drive down network outages and trouble tickets.

(1)    IEC-61300-3-35
(2)    NTT Advanced Technology
(3)    Thomas Jefferson