COVID-19 crisis puts optical fibers to the test

by Jevgenijus Zuljevas, Channel Sales Manager Yokogawa Europe

These are certainly exceptional times we are going through – just a few short weeks ago, we were all getting on with our lives as normal. Now, terms like lockdown and viral load are everyday topics of conversation and many of us are also working from home as requested by our governments – for some it is another totally new experience, for others, it is an extension of what they were doing occasionally already.

Telecommunications service providers were called on to play their part - to help communities and governments respond to the crisis, telecoms companies are supporting multinational customers to enable millions of employees across the world to work from home for the first time.

With a massive increase in video-calls and online conferences, with children home from school as well, learning and entertaining online, we are relying on fixed or wireless broadband internet connections more than ever.

Although the networks are built to cope, it is true to say that they are seeing a lot more traffic than usual. A major telecoms company has reported a weekday daytime traffic increase on the fixed network of between 35 and 60%, compared with similar days – traffic is peaking at 7.5Tb/s, compared to the more usual 5Tb/s.

The big unknown of course is how long the pandemic will last, how long people will be working at home and how service providers can continue to cope with demand.

What we cannot escape is the need for physical maintenance – testing, repair and maintenance of the fiber links and the installation of new ones.

And if home access becomes the new normal, how will demand for traffic and high-speed data access play out?

Platforms like Netflix and Google are cutting their video quality to ensure networks aren’t overloaded, but with more homes being used as small offices, people may demand faster, more capable downloads, that only fiber can reasonably be expected to handle. Who knows how much more capacity will be needed, how many more kilometers of fiber will need to be laid and tested to boost Fiber to the Home (FTTH) connections?

There is certainly plenty of room for development. Figures produced for the FTTH Council Europe in April 2020 show that some of the continent’s major economies have a surprisingly small number of households connected to fiber networks – Germany has only 3.3% of households connected, the UK only 2.8%. Italy does a little better but only manages 4.1%. We could potentially see a huge increase in demand for FTTH.

All these new fiber cables will need testing – and it is not just FTTH. With 2020 set to be the year 5G takes off, Fiber to the Antenna (FTTA) is expected to see a dramatic rise. 5G antennas will be fed by FTTA, allowing data to flow to them at very high speed and with minimal latency.

During the COVID crisis, everyone needs to do what they can in order to respond quickly. When it comes to acting rapidly but economically under time pressure, telecoms companies need an accurate and reliable assessment of the condition of their networks.

This is where Yokogawa supports these fiber challenges – with our range of optical time domain reflectometers or OTDRs. These are precision instruments used to locate events or faults along a fiber link, typically within an optical communications network. They work by sending a series of high-speed optical pulses into the fiber being measured. Faults on the fiber will generate back scatter - light returns to the OTDR and the strength of the return pulses are measured. These losses are then plotted against the distance to give an indication of the position of the faults.

OTDRs are mainly used in the installation of optical fiber and in the maintenance servicing of access networks - communications links between telephone exchanges and telephone poles - and user networks - communications links between user sites and telephone poles.

We offer two levels of instrument - an entry level designed for local last mile testing and a more advanced version that can test the network all the way from the provider’s core to the subscriber’s home.

Amongst professional users of Yokogawa OTDRs, they are known as exceptionally reliable and durable equipment. Fast operation and an intuitive GUI is exactly what maintenance engineers need right now to cope with the extreme workload while making sure they keep the globe connected.

Our customer support teams are available worldwide to support you. Contact your local Yokogawa representation for advice – or get your answers about portable fiber network testing requirements and solutions.


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Optical Time Domain Reflectometer

  • Optical time domain reflectometer precision instrument for access network optical fiber installation and maintenance
  • Locate events or faults along fiber link during OTDR testing procedure