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Why were so many different fiber optic cable specifications created?

To understand why the various specs were created, we have to go back to the basics. The oldest specifications out there were written in the early days of fiber optics. This was a time when fiber was considered delicate, with a little dose of “black magic.” When those early specs were created, say in the 1980s, the number of people worldwide who could actually handle and install cable was in the hundreds. In today’s world, many fiber optic cables are, if you will, commodity products that are handled by tens of thousands of skilled technicians around the world. Many specifications continue to evolve, yet some specs have become set in stone. And, over time, new specifications have been added.

One reason so many different specs have been created is that each application may seem to have special needs. Initially, we were using fiber optic cable for long-haul telecommunications. Now we’ve expanded into the data communications world. We have Fiber To The Office (FTTO) along with cable TV and the Internet – Fiber To The Home (FTTH). These applications were talked about only in a very “future” way in the 1980’s and even in the 1990’s. Each application has its own set of needs, has a new set of slightly different requirements, and has resulted in a new specification – one that is particularly related to the application.

Plus, we have industry and government agencies that say: “We have special needs, and we’re going to require that you meet those needs.” The first major government specifications were, of course, related to military applications. Military requirements for tactical cable are very different – very non-standard from other requirements. It made sense that military applications required manufacturers to develop robust, flexible, secure, and “handle-able” cables that might be buried, because you don’t want someone to find, tap, or cut those cables.

The second major industry and government development was when cables went into new applications. As soon as the old REA (Rural Electrification Administration) became the Rural Development Utilities Programs, the methods changed. They suddenly announced, “We need cables that can be installed on existing networks – on poles or buried out in the middle of the prairie or in very thinly populated areas.” So their specifications called for different requirements: easier handle-ability, easier workability, and behavior that was close to the copper cables these folks had been using. Next, cables started moving into areas like oil and gas fields to maintain the instrumentation. As each new application came along, organizations added new requirements that were unique to their industry. Over the years, a lot of specifications came out for different markets and different applications.



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