FTTH (fiber to the home) has become increasingly popular in optical communication industry. Fiber optic termination, as one of the topics which have never been out of fashion in this field, has naturally become a focus of FTTH network deployment, especially the indoor termination. In FTTH network, mechanical splice connectors are usually used in FTTH indoor termination with the advantages of flexibility, fast-installation and cost-effective. Currently manufactures can provide various types of mechanical splice connectors of high quality which have low insertion loss and high performance. However, no matter how excellent the mechanical splicing technology is, there are still fiber optic termination failures and bad fiber optic termination due to improper operation. To avoid it, this post is to offer the causes of mechanical splice termination failures.
Before finding the cause of mechanical splice failure, the basic of mechanical splicing should be introduced. To finish a mechanical splice, the buffer coatings of fiber optic should be removed mechanically with sharp blades or calibrated stripping tools. In any type of mechanical stripping, the key is to avoid nicking the fiber. Then the fibers will be cleaved. Two fiber ends are then held closely in retaining and aligning a mechanical splice connector with some index matching gel between them. The gel are used to form a continuous optical path between fibers and reduce reflecting losses.
Mechanical splice connector is sensitive to many factors. There are also a large number of factors to cause failures. However, most of the factors are located at the end face of fiber optic. The following is to describe them in details.
When facing mechanical splice failures, there would be no argument that contamination is the first thing to think about. There are many ways that contamination can be carried into the fiber termination splices. Generally, there are the following possible causes of splice contamination:
- Using a dirty cleave tool: as the fiber should be cleave before inserted in the connector, a fiber optic cleaves would be used. If a dirty cleave is used, the contamination would be attached on the end face of the fiber optic and be embedded in the connector. Thus, do remember to clean the surfaces thoroughly with alcohol wipes;
- Wiping the fiber after cleaving;
- Setting the connector or fiber down on a dusty surface;
- Heavy airborne dust environment;
- Glass fragments from insertion broken fibers, or applying excessive force;
- Polluted index matching gel.
Please note that once the contamination is carried inside the mechanical splice connector, especially with the index matching gel, there would be little possibility to clean them out, which means the connector may be scrapped.
Improper operation like overexertion when inserting the fiber optic into the mechanical splice connector might break the fiber optic and produce glass fragmentation which will cause air gap and optical failure. Or if a broken fiber if inserted, there will also be optical failure. If the glass fragments are embedded in the connector, they cannot be cleaned out and the connector would be scrapped. Thus, be gentle and carefully when splicing the fiber ends.
Cleaving the fiber optic is an important step during fiber optic mechanical splicing. The quality of the cleave can decide the quality of the optical splice transmission to some degree. It is not easy to inspect the cleave quality in the field. There are several possibilities there might cause the bad cleaves:
- Dull or chipped cleave tool blade
- The bent tongue on the cleave tool concentrated too much bend stress on the fiber
- Bending the fiber too much or too tight of a radius
- Applying no tension or insufficient tension to the fiber while cleaving.
Fiber gap is another factor that might cause the fiber optic termination failure. The fiber optic transmission is very sensitive to the gap between two fiber ends in the mechanical splice connector. Improper operations that might cause the excessive fiber gap are listed as following:
- Cleaving the fiber without enough lengths;
- The fiber is not fully inserted, or pulled back during termination;
- The fiber was not held steady during termination and was pushed back into the fan-out tubing when terminating outdoor cable.
These faults can be corrected one time.
During fiber cleaving, cleave angle can be produced easily and is difficult to be inspected in field. These angles are typically ranging from 1 to 3 degree. Even with precision tool, there might still be cleave angle ranging from 0.5 to 1 degree. The angle is generally produced by bent tongue, fiber bending or insufficient fiber tension.
However the cleave angles can be corrected by fine tuning with a VFL (visual fault locator). Rotating the fiber while using a VFL and terminate the connector at the position (as shown in the following picture).
Fiber optic mechanical splicing gives quick and high quality result at a low price for fiber optic termination. Choosing the right fiber optic mechanical splice connector and fiber optic cleaver of high quality is not enough. Acknowledge the possible causes to fiber optic termination failures and use the right tools with skills can reduce the risk of termination failure effectively.