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Ultimate Guide for Upgrading to Fiber Optic Networks

Fiber optic network has become prevalent due to their numerous advantages offered to meet ever-increasing needs in this era. Since copper-based Ethernet cabling still remains predominance in the home or business networking infrastructure setup, it is imperative for installers or facility owners to get overall information to upgrade their existing Ethernet network to the fiber optic network. In this post, we’ll cover the basics of fiber optic networks and instructions for accomplishing fiber optic network upgrades reliably and effectively.

What is a Fiber Optic Network?

For the starter, let’s get a rough conception of the fiber optic network. A fiber optic network is a way to transmit data and realize communications via fiber optic cabling instead of Ethernet cabling. A fiber optic network, in other words, utilizes another media to conduct data transmission between the main and edge network devices.  

Copper Ethernet Cabling VS. Fiber Optic Cabling

Before we go deep into the upgrade process of fiber optic networks, some may wonder why we implement fiber optic cabling rather than using copper-based Ethernet cabling.

Copper-based Ethernet cabling makes use of Ethernet cable to transfer data, which enables to deliver the power simultaneously when taking advantage of PoE technology. Ethernet cabling comes with some inherent limitations due to power and signal loss. And it tends to undergo a higher risk of damage in outdoor or industrial deployments.

Fiber optic cabling, on the contrary, uses fiber optic cable to fulfill data transmission. Fiber optic cable is made of glasses or plastic, and this contributes largely to better performance. But fiber optic cabling, at first glance, makes people feel expensive, and in reality, fiber optic cable is much cheaper, but the expense is mainly in installation and termination.

Fiber optic cabling, look through overall and in the long run actually cost less. Let alone its enhanced features prevail over its copper-based Ethernet counterpart.

Benefits of Fiber Optic Network

Why do people tend to consider fiber optic network upgrade to improve their obsolete networking infrastructure, the reason is that as mentioned at the beginning, fiber optic network offers a number of advantages. Here we’ll elaborate on how the fiber optic network exactly benefits the network system.

Greater Bandwidth

A fiber optic network provides greater bandwidth compared to copper, and therefore it means higher capacity and transmits more data. Copper Ethernet cable takes less bandwidth. Additionally, copper cable structure determines fewer wires be bundled in the same diameter as fiber optic cable. A fiber optic network can easily handle a huge amount of data at a standardized decent performance of 10 Gigabit.

Fast Speed

Fiber can transmit data at a faster speed than copper undoubtedly. This is largely because the core that fiber optic transmits over light signal, which copper makes use of an electronic signal. Besides, fiber optic cables experience few signal degradation to keep the original fast speed. Although Ethernet cables like Cat6 can reach data rate at up to 10G, as fast as some fiber optic cables under certain conditions, actually, fiber optic cables realize tremendous network speed even at 100 TB.

Long Distance Run

Similarly, fiber optic cables potentially achieve long-range transmission for data primarily because less significant signal loss occurs. In fact, copper cables have an inherent transmission distance limit to transmit data around 300 feet, which requires boosters alike extension tools to reach a longer distance. However, fiber optic cables enable a farther range of data transmission for over 25 miles when employed with the right cables. Consequently, reliable data transmission over long-distance runs is available with ease, and without the need for extra expense on extension tools.

High Reliability

A fiber optic network gives high reliability than its copper counterpart thanks to its immunity to EMI(Electro-Magnetic Interference) and RFI(Radio Frequency Interference). Such interferences are the disruption and source cause effect on the integrity of signal transmission. Fiber optic cables can be completely immune to these interferences because they are made of glasses or plastics, the non-metallic materials that insulate electricity. That being said, upgrading to a fiber optic network equivalently integrates the system with good resistance to surges under lightning days. Additionally, no electricity going through the fiber link means less potential to trigger spark or fire hazards in the future long-term use.

Superior Security

More importantly, fiber optic networks allow data transmission or system operation to be protected under superior security. Fiber optic signal is not easy to be tapped by external sources, thus data transmission over fiber optic cables can be safe without intercepted emissions, ensuring secured transmission of confidential information. It is ideal for mission-critical facilities to build secure mechanisms.

Easy Installation

A fiber optic network can be installed easily since fiber optic cable is thin, lightweight, and durable. Due to their small size, cables can be pulled over a long run, and it takes up less space to be put in the cabling ducts without a wet finger. Fiber optic cables feature extraordinary tensile strength, and great resistance to corrosion, which is unlike copper wires.

Reasons to Upgrade to Fiber Optic Networks

To better learn how to upgrade to a fiber optic network, you might as well know why you want, or when to upgrade to a fiber optic network in the first place. The reasons might vary from facilities and applications.

Business Expansion

A growing business, even classified as small-sized, more or less face the situation of business expansion, in facets of scale or employees, or network devices. That means a larger volume of data needs to be processed and managed, especially when experience issues like slow web surfing and frequent delays for data storing or access, actually these are signs that tell the need to get your network upgraded. An upgraded network offering greater bandwidth is fundamental for smooth data transmission or fast internet access, or it may influence productivity or customer experience.

Long Range Transmission

Sometimes long range setup for network devices is a crucial demand that is hardly satisfied by Ethernet cabling due to the transmission distance limitation of sending data/PoE around 300ft. Beyond this range, the performance or operation of the edge device can’t be guaranteed or come into function. To get long-range transmission, it is necessary to seek an approach to address the distance problem. Fiber optic cabling is an effective option to meet long cable runs.

Centralized Fiber Optic LANs

A fiber optic network is widely used to build LAN(Local Area Network) backbone due to its prominent performance on data transmission. It can be applied to set up centralized fiber optic LANs, taking advantage of long-distance runs and great bandwidth, end users are able to place all the electronics and hardware in the same location for centralized management, which is perfect for large buildings like hospitals, airports, libraries, etc.

Industrial Networking Deployment

As a matter of fact, in networking setup in the industrial environment, EMI is a big issue to address. Copper cables are bound to absorb a great amount of surge during lightning strikes, which might suffer from equipment damages or system failures. According to what was talked about previously, fiber optic cables are immune to EMI, thus it is a fair option to meet industrial networking deployment.

How to Start with Proper Fiber Optic Network Upgrades?

Fiber optic network upgrades can be accomplished simply or complicatedly. It is of great importance to know how to start in a proper way, or it may create hassle and loss. Let’s walk through the guideline that helps start your fiber optic network upgrade correctly.

Understand Your Needs Based on Practical Scenario

Planning is the first step in the process, which helps make up more prudent decisions that save time and money and improve the effectiveness and scalability of your upgraded network. It is imperative to understand your needs in line with realistic conditions, and on prevision of near future. Figuring out why you want to use fiber and how fiber helps your network and what applications are needed to connect to fiber. Having known these, the design can be done more easily and the purchase of network devices or components can be more accurate.

Acquire the Basics of Fiber Optic Network

Next, learning and grasping the basics of fiber optic networks is crucial. Basic information is fundamental to knowing how to start the upgrade.

  • How Does a Fiber Optic Network Works?

Fiber optic networks generally mean fiber LANs, which rely on fiber optic cable to carry data over the light signal to realize fast, safe and reliable communications for long distances. The connection of network devices roughly involves media conversion, careful installation, and fiber termination.

  • Fiber Optic Network Components

A fiber optic network is relatively sophisticated, and undeniably, makes clear the constitution of a fiber optic network is a necessity to implement fiber optic network upgrades. The components mainly include network switches with or without SFP slots, fiber media converters, fiber optic cables, transceivers, fiber termination tools, and accessories like power supplies, and fiber termination boxes.

Consider the Cable Aspect

Fiber optic cables play an important role in the speed and distance to be performed in the fiber optic networks. As a result, considering the cable uses and determining which types to choose from is the key to maintaining a proper setup.

The structure of fiber optic cable is not complex and designed with excellent durability. The core is the innermost layer, which is surrounded by the middle part called cladding, lastly, that is the outermost layer is named coating.

There are various fiber optic cables available in the market nowadays, and the selection is prone to confusion. Virtually, fiber optic cables can be divided into two types, namely, single-mode fiber optic cables and multimode fiber optic cables. The “mode” refers to a ray of light passing through the cable. These two types of cables utilize different light signals and wavelengths, the truth is that they can’t work together in one network.

  • Single-Mode Fiber Optic Cable

Single-mode fiber optic cable(SMF) as its name implies, only uses a single ray of light for bouncing off the glass in the cable. Single-mode allows data transmission reaches a much greater distance (up to 80km) with unlimited bandwidth due to its cable structure, a cleaner channel at a small core diameter, is used to transmit signal with less attenuation. SMF uses laser signal, accordingly, it demands a higher cost. Single-Mode Fiber generally works at 1310 nm and 1550 nm wavelengths.

  • Multimode Fiber Optic Cable

Multimode fiber optic cable(MMF) sources multiple rays of light reflected in cables simultaneously. MMF features a larger core size, enabling some low-cost light sources like LEDs(light-emitting diodes) and VCSELs (vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers) to be used. In most cases, the multimode cable suits shorter distance deployments(up to 1KM) requiring high speed with large bandwidth, which certainly supports far less amount than the single-mode type offered. Five different grades of multimode fiber are opted to fit different distances(OM1-OM5). MMF typically uses wavelengths of 850 nm and 1300 nm.

  • Indoor VS. Outdoor Fiber Cable

The environment using fiber optic cables is a critical aspect to take into account. To satisfy different environments, it is advisable to select suitable cables that can adapt to specific environments. As to indoor deployments, such as in buildings, and in rooms, the indoor type can accommodate well, these cables are vulnerable to physical elements like moisture but lighter and more economic. While outdoor deployments are specially designed suiting outdoor deployment to withstand years of exposure to moisture. They are generally armored and provide a powerful protective layer.

  • Connector Termination: Field Terminated VS. Pre-terminated

Moreover, connectors are essential components of fiber optic cables. Connector types vary in size, insertion loss performance, cost, and so on. In all, there are literally around 100 different types of fiber connectors in the market, however, there are only several types frequently used, including LC(Lucent Connector), SC(Subscriber Connector), ST(Straight Tip), and FC(Ferrule Connector) fiber optic connector, etc.

You are supposed to know the differences between LC connectors and SC connectors as they are the most popular types used for fiber termination. LC is regarded as the replacement of SC with a growing prevalence, which has a 1.25mm ferrule size, half the size of SC. Moreover, FC features a latch design, with the combination of small size, it tends to be a perfect choice for high-density connections.

Referring to fiber connectors, simplex and duplex define different ways for fiber of glass or plastic to be transmitted and/or received through the transceivers(which we’ll discuss later). Simplex fiber consists of only a single strand of glass or plastic fiber, and duplex fiber, as its name indicates, consists of two strands of glass or plastic fiber.

Unlike copper Ethernet cable that is always equipped with an RJ45 connector at both ends of the cable, connector termination of fiber cable can be categorized into two types, field terminated fiber connector and pre-terminated fiber connector. Field termination from its name distinctively means terminate the end of the fiber in the field, the process is relatively demanding and complex. On the contrary, pre-termination also called factory termination refers to cables to be terminated with the connector in the factory. Pre-terminated fiber optic cable is useful to save connector termination hassle and reduce failure to some extent, especially for those who lack knowledge and skills.

More information about field termination and pre-termination can refer to this post.

Find Solutions for Copper to Fiber Migration

If the final decision of fiber cable has been settled, finding ways to accomplish the migration of copper to fiber and knowing which is apt to be implemented and meet actual applications is essential. Some devices are offered to help, and typically, there are two solutions to solve the problem on the whole.

  • Media Conversion

The key to upgrading the network from copper to fiber is effective media conversion. As we know, copper cabling and fiber cable use two different media to transmit data, thus to ensure the validity of communications, copper, and fiber require to be converted. Fiber media converters are common tools used to migrate copper to fiber, and vice versa. A fiber media converter is a networking device that is meant to connect fiber cabling and other types of media cabling, like copper cabling, with this tool, fiber signal can be

  • Fiber Optic Transceiver

Fiber optic transceivers generally work with media converters to implement media conversion between fiber cabling and copper-based network. Fiber optic transceivers also called SFP modules, and it’s the combination of two terms, transmitter and receiver. They are used to transmit and receive signals to gain the integration of fiber and copper for network upgrades.

Fiber optic transceivers feature plug-and-play simple installation, and they have different types that vary in fiber mode, connector type, data rate, transmission distance, wavelength, etc. It is important to pick up the right type to apply for your single-mode or multimode fiber cables. SFP modules, SFP+ modules, or BiDi SFP modules are commonly seen in the market.

Related Article: Media Conversion: Ethernet to Fiber

  • Solutions: Add Auxiliary Equipment or Replace with New

A fiber optic network upgrade, simply put is to add a new network device to achieve media conversion, or to replace the existing networking device with a new one that enables fiber optic cabling.

Solution #1: Add Fiber Media Converters

As mentioned above, fiber media converters can deal with media conversion. Adding fiber media converters is a cost-effective and flexible way to upgrade the network. It allows facility owners to keep the current networking infrastructure to the maximum extent or utilize existing networking devices optimally.

A typical copper-based Ethernet network is composed of routers, network switches, and edge network devices like computers, VoIP phones, IP cameras, wireless access points, etc. Integrated fiber optic cabling into a copper network system, source fiber media converters are the best choice if you desire to remain the network switches that are in function. It supports seamless connection, there are no concerns about packet loss or system failure. Generally, fiber media converters are used in pairs. One is connected to the main network device and the other is linked to the edge device. The data will be transmitted over fiber optic cabling. By now, fiber media converters commonly serve fast Ethernet(100Mbps), Gigabit Ethernet(1000Mbps), and 10G Ethernet(10000Mbps) for edge network devices.

To satisfy different needs, there are various types of fiber media converters to choose from. If you want more control over network management, managed fiber media converters are available, generally, unmanaged media converters may suffice for most cases. For easier and more flexible installation, taking advantage of PoE fiber media converters is feasible. These converters permit the edge network device to receive power and data simultaneously over a single Ethernet cable, as a result, additional power outlets can be eliminated. Considering there are different network sizes, standalone fiber media converters can fit small size system well, while to build a medium-to-large scale network, chassis-based media converters is a better option as quite a number of independent converters can be housed in a chassis for easy installation and maintenance.

Solution #2: Replace with Fiber Network Switch

Provided that you have the plan to weed out the obsolete network switches, or thinking to use network switches that combined fiber and Ethernet as main networking devices, then replacing the old with a new fiber network switch is an alternative for fiber optic network upgrade.

Fiber network switches are network switches with built-in fiber media converters, fiber optic ports, and the so-called SFP slots, which can be seen on the switch’s front panel. Put suitable SFP modules to the SFP slots at both ends, and connected with fiber optic cable, then a complete fiber optic connectivity is done.

Roughly, there are three versions of fiber network switches. One is those only equipped with a few SFP slots, which are mainly used for networks that give priority to copper-based Ethernet cabling, and some special locations demand fiber optic networks. In another version of fiber network switches, on the contrary, almost all the ports are SFP slots and only one or two RJ45 ports for data uplink. These switches are most used for high-density fiber optic networks, such as data centers. The last version is the hybrid or compromised fiber network switches, they equip with about the same quantity of Ethernet ports and SFP slots. It is not complicated to choose the best-suited type according to specific needs. What’s more, fiber network switches also have unmanaged and managed types.

Think about Cable Management

Cable management actually is good for installation and maintenance. It streamlines the cabling process, ensures safer cable routing, and reduces maintenance frequency and replacement hassle. Fiber enclosures are designed to help.

Test After Upgrade Accomplished

Testing the network after the upgrade was wrapped up is an extra layer for stability and security. Test the terminals of fiber optic equipment, the connection, and the network to whether meet the standards that are required, this helps ensure everything is in normal operation. After getting through this testing work, the fiber optic network comes to an end.

Additional Considerations of Effective Fiber Optic Network Deployment

To ensure the effectiveness of fiber optic network deployment in the upgrade, it’s highly recommended to consider additional considerations below.

  • Fiber is not Exclusive to Network Cabling

It’s not realistic to take fiber as the exclusive network cabling during the upgrade. Fiber to the desktop is so convenient for the time being because the majority of network devices still use RJ45 Ethernet port for data transmitting and receiving, that being said, it requires putting a media converter to connect each edge device. To sum up, in setting up a fiber optic network, it seems unavoidable to rely on copper Ethernet cabling working together.

  • Make Use of Fiber Termination Box

A professional fiber network deployment is inclined to utilize fiber termination boxes to build up fiber optic cabling that is ready for current and future use with easy management and great protection. A fiber termination box functions like a network plug on walls. Whenever a fiber optic link is needed, only connect to the standby fiber optic port with a patch fiber cable.

  • Deal with Power Supply Issue Flexibly

Remember fiber optic cable doesn’t deal with electricity, that means power supply issue for fiber media converters calling for the extra process. Simply, only need to plug the enclosed power adapter into a nearby power outlet, some outdoor or industrial type fiber media converters require external power supplies to get power.  

If fact, power can be transmitted together with data flexible, obtaining central power supply management remotely in main network control rooms. To make it, you are supposed to use specific fiber media converters that support wide input voltage and voltage boosting mechanisms.

Related Article: PoE over Fiber with DC Power System Explained & Startup Guide

  • Implement Careful Cable Installation

In the fiber network deployment, fiber optic cable installation is prone to malfunction due to its brittleness. It is highly important to care for bend radius protection to avoid exceeding the maximum cable bend radius. Never pull the fiber cable directly, and try to choose fiber cable with a pulling eye design, and use a cable caddy for the cable run.

  • Embrace Advanced Network Managerial Features

As mentioned earlier, fiber network switches or fiber media converters can be manageable when using the managed type. Managed fiber network devices feature advanced functions and they can do much more on network management, monitoring, and security. QoS, Port Aggregation, and ERPS are some commonly used managerial capabilities to realize greater performance and higher security.

Related Article: Unmanaged or Managed Switches, Which to Choose for SMB Network

  • Reach Out to Professionals if Overwhelmed

Sometimes, it is normal for end users to encounter difficulties or even situations like being overwhelmed in fiber optic network upgrade smoothly and correctly. It is wise to get in touch with professionals pertaining to fiber optic network setup. FASTCABLING dedicated design team is always ready and happy to assist.

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