How to repair a cut underground fiber-optic cable

Written by will charpentier
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How to repair a cut underground fiber-optic cable
Sine Wave (Illustration by Author)

According to the Electronic Technicians Association, one of the chief causes of failure in fibre-optic cable is "backhoe fade," a technical term meaning that someone using a backhoe has cut your cable. If this happened on property that you own, finding the break is easy: Look for the backhoe. Other causes, though, might not have easy solutions. Moles love to chew on fibre-optic cables, and unfortunately, they're a little harder to see than a piece of heavy equipment. This means that finding the break becomes an expensive process because of the equipment involved.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Optical time-domain reflectometer
  • Quick-connect fibre-optic connectors
  • Cable gel remover
  • Cable rip cord
  • Fibre-coating stripper tool
  • High-precision fibre cleaver
  • Buffer tube stripper
  • Fusion splice protector sleeve
  • Fibre-optic fusion splicer
  • Heat shrink oven
  • Fibre-optic cable splice enclosure
  • Optical fusion splicer
  • Shovel
  • Screwdriver (standard flat blade, to close splice enclosure)
  • Work gloves
  • Safety glasses

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  1. 1

    Find the break in your cable. Fibre-optic technicians use a device called an optical time-domain reflectometer( OTDR). When connected to fibre-optic cable, the OTDR works much like radar, sending a light pulse down the cable, which is reflected back to the device when a break is encountered. This tells the technician how far down the line of cable the break is located.

  2. 2

    Dig up the cable at the location the OTDR has pinpointed as being the site of the break in the fibre-optic cable.

  3. 3

    Prepare the fibre by stripping about 9 feet of the cable with the cable rip cord, and gently peel back the jacket to expose the fibre-optic tubes inside and remove the excess jacket. Clean the cable gel with cable gel remover, cutting away any yarn or sheath, and separate the fibre tubes. Try not to damage the strength member, as it's needed to hold the cable in the splice enclosure.

  4. 4

    Use the fibre-coating stripper tool to expose 2 inches of fibre cladding, and clean all fibres in the tube with cable gel remover. Using the high-precision fibre cleaver, trim any damaged ends of the fibres. If you plan to do a fusion splice, put a fusion splice protector sleeve onto the fibre, then clean the stripped fibre with lint-free wipes soaked in household alcohol. If you plan to make a mechanical connection, put the quick-connect fibre-optic connectors on the fibre, and wipe the stripped fibre using lint-free wipes and alcohol. Don't let the fibre touch anything. Repeat this process, inserting the fibres into the corresponding fusion splice protector sleeve or the quick-connect fibre-optic connectors. If you are using quick-connect connectors, this completes the splicing process.

  5. 5

    Put the fibres to be spliced in the fusion splicer if you're making a fusion splice, and fire the fusion splicer according to its manual. Then, move the fusion connector (with its associated fibres) into the heat shrink oven, and press the button to heat shrink the fusion connector in place on the fused fibres. The fusion splice is somewhat superior to the mechanical splice, because its signal (insertion) loss is less than 0.1 decibels (dB); the mechanical connection has an insertion loss of less than 0.5 dB. Check the fibre-optic connection with the OTDR. Put the splices into the splice enclosure, close the enclosure, and rebury the cable.

Tips and warnings

  • The mechanical connectors--the quick-connect fibre-optic connectors--are simpler and safer. The loss of quality as the result of using mechanical connectors is negligible.
  • The optical fusion splicer generates a minor electrical explosion to fuse the ends of the fibres together; the heat shrink generates sufficient heat to burn a hand.
  • While handling fibre-optic cable, do not allow the cable to exceed its bending radius.

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