The Need for Fiber-Optic Maintenance in Broadcast

April 30, 2015

With the presence of fiber optic cabling reaching almost every market, the need for proper maintenance has become a critical factor. If you are connecting a piece of equipment to a fiber optic cable that will likely never be removed (assuming both ends are clean to start) you probably have little to worry about. But in the broadcast world, cables are patched and un-patched multiple times each day (especially in a mobile truck at a live sporting event). The need for proper fiber optic contact maintenance -- cleaning & inspection -- is crucial to the integrity of the data being passed.

Every time you take the cap off of a fiber optic connector, you are potentially contaminating the system. Damage can be done to the contacts if dust, dirt or debris gets onto the face of the contacts. Then each time the cable is patched, it gets impacted between the contacts. Over time, this will begin to deepen and enlarge. The contacts can also become scratched and affect the performance. You will notice more “loss” until the signal reaches the digital cliff, the point at which no signal is able to pass. Engineers need to be able to quickly troubleshoot the line. This may cost even more time and money, especially if the signal is being aired. Maintaining a clean fiber optic data path will make it much easier to troubleshoot if anything does go wrong.

There are many types of cleaning kits on the market that you can purchase to keep your system running smoothly. The most economical and effective way is to use the wet/dry method of cleaning. All you need is a package of lint free medical grade swabs, 91% Isopropyl alcohol, and an inspection scope. Sure, there are some expensive kits out there, but others just prefer the simple “pen” type that has a small reel of dry, lint-free cloth moving over the contact.

At least 1 person on your staff should be properly trained to clean and maintain the fiber system. The most common types of fiber connectors are ST, LC and SC. Also, there are SMPTE connectors that are used on HD cameras that require an alignment/removal tool that allows you to gain access to the contacts. The last thing you need are 5 different people running around “cleaning” while they create more damage and loss for the system. Just like regularly changing the air filter in your car, a cleaning and inspection program should be a part of your fiber optic infrastructure maintenance plan.

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