In two years or so, we can expect 400Gb fibre broadband speeds in the data centre and we hear that terabyte speeds have been achieved in lab tests. An apparently entirely unconnected statistic is that there will be over 6Billion new smartphone users worldwide in the next four years. Think about it though, more smartphone users means more data sent and received at Internet speeds. More data means bigger networks, more fibre and more fibre testing.
Another prime driver for increasing use of fibre connections is that of the roll-out of Fibre to the Home (“FTTH”) fibre broadband connections. Compared with copper and cellular connections, FTTH offers substantially better Internet Speed and reliability.
Fibre networks need to be tested to ensure that the fibre itself and the splicing joints are good. This ensures that performance of the fibre network is to standard.
As fibre speeds increase and specifications tighten, it is becoming more and more necessary to test fibre networks regularly, and to have test equipment available to test possible fibre failures. If you are an installer, most of your clients will not accept an installation without properly documented and acceptable test results.
Full-function testers are often bulky and a pain to lug around, and not always there when you need them. What if there was an easier, handheld way of carrying out quick tests when troubleshooting and when doing a full test of a fibre install. There is a new way.
Ever thought of using your smartphone as a quick and convenient fibre tester? It is feasible, and becoming more so by the day.
Two ways it can be done:
Use the camera as a light sensor for a quick up or down test;
It’s not generally known, but most smartphone cameras, especially the older ones from before 2010, have an Infra-Red capability. The CCTV community are already using smartphones to troubleshoot device connectivity problems over IR. Older phones are better as testers, because newer ones tend to have the camera function optimised for photography. The IR capability allows you to find out if an IR device is really broken or it’s just that the batteries are flat. Try it out on your TV remote:
Turn on the phone’s camera and point it at the remote. Press a button on the remote. If the remote is working, the IR light can be seen on the camera image.
The CCTV community are already regularly using smartphones to troubleshoot device connectivity problems over IR.
Similar techniques can be used to check out Fibre ports.
To find out if a port is hot, turn on your phone’s camera function and hold it over the port. If it is energised, you will see a blue-white dot in the port bulkhead in the camera image. Be aware though, while this works fine at 850-nm, it is less reliable at 1300nm.
Keep an old cellphone in your toolbox. Don’t forget the charger!!
Use an app on the smartphone to carry out tests.
Another, and more sophisticated use of a smartphone in fibre testing is to combine a smartphone app with a dedicated tester connected to the phone, either by cable or by Bluetooth.
This allows you to immediately copy the test data and results to the cloud for later processing and report production. The app will usually give you immediate rough results to tell you if a test was satisfactory.
The Rogue unit from AFL for example is a modular handheld unit which carries out the test, sending the results to an app on a smartphone. Different detachable modules allow you to carry out a range of different tests.
A similar unit from EXFO has the same properties and has been found particularly useful for Fibre to the Antenna (“FTTA”) wireless and optical laser installations where it is inconvenient to carry bulky test equipment to the top of towers.
While smartphone based fibre test units are excellent and very convenient for first line troubleshooting, and awkward installations, they often lack the comprehensive abilities of full function test equipment. It is undeniable though, that they are a very useful addition to the fibre technician’s toolbox or pocket. Over time, it is expected that they will come to have the same properties as the full function test units and gradually replace them.