What is best for you?

Written by Dave Harris, trueCABLE Technical Specialist, BICSI INST1 Certified

In the digital age, Fiber optic cables They have become the backbone of modern communications, enabling lightning-fast data transfer and unparalleled network performance. As the demand for reliable, high-speed connectivity continues to grow, understanding the differences between the two basic fiber optic cable designs – unarmored and armored – is critical for network administrators and IT professionals.

The main difference between these cable types is the level of physical protection they provide. While they both serve the same basic purpose of transmitting data, choosing between unarmored and armored fiber optic cables can significantly impact the long-term performance and resiliency of your network infrastructure.

In this blog post, we will explore the advantages and disadvantages of unarmored weapons and Armored fiber optic cableshelping you determine the best solution for your network requirements.

What is unarmored fiber optic cable?

Unshielded or unshielded fiber optic cables are sleek and lightweight. These cables are manufactured with a protective outer covering that covers the sensitive optical fibers, but they lack the additional layers of protection found in armored versions.

The primary advantages of unarmored fiber optic cables include:

lower cost

Without the need for specialized shielding materials, unarmored cables are generally less expensive than their armored counterparts. This can be an attractive option for budget-conscious deployments or projects with tight financial constraints.

Easier installation

The flexibility and smaller size of unarmored cables make it easier to navigate through congested paths and tight spaces. This can simplify installation, reduce labor costs and enable faster network deployments.

Compact design

The simplified construction of unarmored cables allows for more efficient storage and transportation, which can be beneficial for network operators with limited storage space or frequent cable transfers.

Unarmored fiber optic cables are well suited for indoor applications or controlled outdoor environments with minimal physical risk, such as low traffic areas or protected conduits. Although they can be used in some outdoor deployments, the lack of additional protection means that unarmored cables may not be the best choice for harsh environments or applications where they may be exposed to physical damage, rodent activity, or extreme weather conditions.

Figure 1. Unarmored fiber optic cable

What is armored fiber optic cable?

Armored fiber optic cables Additional layers of protection are included to protect sensitive optical fibers from various physical threats. These layers typically include materials such as aluminum, stainless steel, or Kevlar, which provide enhanced resistance to impact, crushing, and other forms of physical abuse.

The main advantages of armored fiber optic cables include:

Increased physical protection

Armored cables are designed to withstand harsh environmental conditions, including exposure to rodents, extreme weather, and heavy physical loads. This enhanced protection helps prevent damage to optical fibers, ensuring reliable data transmission and reducing the risk of costly repairs or replacements.

Improved durability

The extra protective layers of armored cables help extend their life and maintain their performance over time, even in tough environments. This can reduce maintenance costs and reduce network outages due to cable failure.

Suitability for difficult environments

Armored fiber optic cables It is well suited for outdoor deployments, underground installations and industrial settings where the risk of physical damage is higher. These cables can provide the protection needed to protect your network infrastructure in difficult conditions.

While armored fiber optic cables offer superior protection, they also come with some trade-offs. Armored designs are typically more expensive, bulkier, and less flexible than their non-armored counterparts, which can complicate installation and transportation.

Comparison of unarmored cables vs armored cables

When choosing between unarmored and armored fiber optic cables, the primary consideration is the level of physical protection required for your specific network application.

Unarmored cables are best suited for indoor environments or outdoor deployments with low physical risk, where the cost savings and ease of installation outweigh the need for enhanced protection. These cables are often the most cost-effective option upfront, making them a viable option for projects with limited budgets or applications that do not require the additional durability of armored designs.

Conversely, armored cables are the preferred choice for outdoor installations, underground deployments, and harsh industrial environments where cables may be exposed to physical threats, such as impacts, crushing, or rodent activity. While armored cables are more expensive initially, they can provide a more reliable and cost-effective solution in the long term by reducing the risk of cable failure and maintenance costs.

It is essential to carefully evaluate the deployment environment, potential hazards, and long-term maintenance requirements when selecting the appropriate fiber optic cabling solution. The additional expense of protective measures, such as conduits, can quickly offset the initial cost savings of unarmored cables, making armored designs the wiser choice for some applications.

Types of armored cables

There are many different materials used to produce fiber armor. There are vests and composites infused with Kevlar, but most fiber armor uses metal, usually aluminum or stainless steel.

Aluminum Interlocking Armor (AIA): Strength and durability

Aluminum Interwoven (AIA) fiber optic cables are designed to withstand extreme physical abuse, making them suitable for applications in harsh environments such as petrochemical plants, asphalt plants and steel mills. These cables are manufactured with a universal jacket or riser jacket, waterproof Kevlar®, and an aluminum interlocking armor layer covering the fiber core.

AIA cables can withstand heavier loads and pulls compared to unarmored cables, providing protection against rodent bites, extreme weather conditions, and rugged handling. However, they are not immune to crushing or extremely heavy loads, which may be required in some difficult environments.

While the durability of AIA cables is undeniable, their bulky size and heavy weight present significant challenges. These cables have a large footprint, which makes them expensive to store, transport and deploy. Additionally, their inflexibility can hinder installation in tight spaces, often resulting in the use of specialized machinery and increased labor costs.

Aluminum Interwoven (AIA) fiber optic cables.

Figure 2. Aluminum Interlocking Armor (AIA) fiber optic cables.

Here are some of the main advantages of choosing Stainless steel microfiber cables:

The smaller footprint allows for easy installation through tight spaces, curved aisles and high-traffic areas.
These cables provide exceptional flexibility, pushing the limits of what is actually possible with fiberglass.
The crush-resistant stainless steel micro-shield, combined with Kevlar and outer jacket, provides superior protection for armored fiber cables, mitigating the risk of damage even in the harshest conditions.
The small size translates into significant cost savings in storage, transportation and labor associated with installation and handling.

Micro Armor Fiber cables are suitable for indoor and outdoor installations, including underground deployments without the need for conduit (subject to local regulations).

Best installation practices for unarmored and armored fiber optic cables

Proper installation is critical to ensuring the long-term performance and reliability of your fiber optic network, regardless of whether you choose unarmored or armored cables. Here are some best practices to consider:

Cable handling and preparation

Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for handling cables, including recommended bend radii, tension tensions, and installation temperatures. Proper cable preparation, such as stripping or termination, is also necessary to prevent damage during the installation process.

Path setting

Carefully inspect and prepare cable routes before installation. Remove any debris or obstructions that could damage the cables, and ensure that the tracks are of the appropriate size to accommodate the cable dimensions.

Cable routing and support

Proper cable routing and support is essential to prevent excessive stress or stress on the cables. Follow recommended cable routing practices, including maintaining proper bend radius and providing adequate support at regular intervals.

Termination and testing

Once cables are installed, proper termination and testing are essential to ensure optimal performance and identify any potential issues. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cable termination and perform comprehensive testing, including optical time domain reflectometry (OTDR) and power meter testing.

Documentation and labeling

Accurate documentation and labeling is critical for future maintenance and troubleshooting. Keep detailed records of cable routes, endpoints and any relevant installation details, and label cables and endpoints clearly for easy identification.

By following these best practices, you can ensure the successful installation and long-term performance of your fiber optic cable network, regardless of the type of cable chosen.

Choose the best fiber optic cable that suits your needs

Choosing between unarmored and armored fiber optic cable is a critical decision that can significantly impact the performance, reliability and cost-effectiveness of your network infrastructure. By understanding the unique characteristics and use cases of each cable type, you can make an informed decision that matches the requirements of your specific network and deployment environment.

Remember, the main difference between unarmored and armored fiber optic cables is the level of physical protection they provide. Unarmored cables are best suited for indoor applications or controlled outdoor environments, while armored cables are the preferred choice for harsh, outdoor, or industrial settings where the cables may be exposed to physical threats.

By carefully considering the advantages and disadvantages of each cable type, you can ensure that your fiber network is built to withstand the challenges of the modern digital landscape and provide reliable, high-speed connectivity for years to come.

Happy communication!

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