Fiber optic cables are being increasingly deployed to meet the demands of high-speed networking and data transmissions. In residential installations, cable management is usually not an issue because many homes have to deal with only one or two fiber cables. However, cable management in a data center, office, or industrial setting can be a lot more complicated due to the larger number of cables that need to be managed. In these situations, stellar cable management is a must because messy cables lead to data loss and make troubleshooting difficult. Fiber optic patch panels can make things easier in these situations.
Fiber Optic Patch Panels: What Are They?
A fiber optic patch panel, sometimes called a fiber distribution panel, is a panel that is used as a termination point for a fiber optic cable (usually a multi-strand or bulk fiber cable) and that provides connections to individual fibers. Fiber optic patch panels can also be used as a secure housing for connectors exposed fibers and spliced units.
Parts of a Fiber Optic Patch Panel
Typically, a patch panel will have four parts including the enclosed chamber (also called the wall mount or rack mount), connector adaptors that have appropriate mating adaptors to ensure low optical loss, a splice tray that is used to organize and secure the modules used for the splicing, and an adaptor panel.
The adaptors used in a single panel are usually of the same type and they come in different shapes. However, in cases where there is more than one type of fiber cable used in a network, the fiber patch panel might have more than one type of adaptor.
Fiber optic patch panels usually have two compartments; one that holds the adaptors and receptacles and one that holds excess fiber length and the splice tray. The trays used for cable management are optional although when used, they help store excess jumper cable length neatly.
Fiber Termination inside the Panel
Inside the panel, field or panel terminations can be used. Pigtail cables are unspliced cables and if they are used, a police tray is a must. Using pigtail termination usually results in a better connection and is usually quicker than field termination.
Field termination used a fiber optic connector. The connector is installed in individual fibers which are then connected to other connectors connected to individual fibers. Filed termination is slower than using the pigtail method. When using field termination, you will not need a splice tray inside the panel. The main downside of using field termination is that the connection might not be as good as one where a pigtail termination was used.
Types of Fiber Optic Patch Panels
There are two main types of fiber optic patch panels. Do note that regardless of which of the two you choose, they both can help you house, manage, organize, and protect your cables, connectors, and splices.
The first type is a rack-mount panel. It resembles a drawer and holds all the fiber cables horizontally. These types of fiber patch panels are usually designed in 4U, 3U, 2U, and 1U sizes and can hold almost any number of fiber optic cables (usually up to around 500).
The rack-mount panel also comes in two designs including a slide-out design and one that has a removable lid. The slide-out design makes it easier for engineers to reach the fibers but it costs more. Although the type with a removable lid is cheaper, it requires the engineer to remove the enclosure before they have access to the internal components.
The second type is the wall mount panel. These panels are usually fabricated from steel sheets and are meant to be used as wall enclosures for splice trays and adapter panels. Wall-mounted panels can be easily mounted on any wall and are great for protecting the fiber optic cables from contamination and make the organization of the cables easy.
The ports on the fiber optic patch panel allow data to enter and exit the panel. Different panels come with a different number of ports that usually go up to 288 ports However, you can get panels with even more ports if you need them. Many engineers agree that as long as you do not interfere with the optical and signal integrity, there is no limit to the number of ports you can have if you also have the space.
When deciding on the number of ports you need, ensure that the rack you choose can allow you to not only have that number of ports now but to also add more in the future.
Fiber patch panels are very important especially in data centers that have a lot of data. They provide engineers with an easy way to install fiber cables, manage them and distribute them easily. Although using a patch panel is beneficial and attractive, ensure the one you choose matches your application and that offers you enough flexibility, so it is easy to add more adapters, splices, and ports in the future.