Connectors just keep plugging away

Connectors just keep plugging away

George Kotelly

Executive Editor

georgek@pennwell.com

For nearly two decades, fiber-optic connectors have steadily demonstrated substantial improvements in design, materials, installation, coupling, performance and price.

During that time, optical fiber and fiber-optic connectors--the cornerstones of lightwave communications--have been burdened by a public image as laboratory devices that mandated special tools and magical skills to install. Contrary to that image, and unheralded and unpublicized, fiber-optic connector technology has always kept pace with end-user and installer demands by producing a steady stream of user-friendly, reliable and durable mechanical parts, assembly methods and termination configurations. It has also spurred a successful related market for support products, such as adhesives, epoxies, cleaners, cleavers, splicers, tools and testers.

A look in the Lightwave 1996 Buyer`s Guide Issue reflects the evolutionary progress and success of optical connectors as well as a fiercely competitive marketplace. Some 49 companies are listed, along with 10 different connector types. Although the basic function of a fiber-optic connector has remained the same for two decades--connect, disconnect and reconnect an optical fiber to another fiber or device--manufacturers have still been able to offer distinctive products via clever coupling structures.

A primary reason for the vigorous connector marketplace is the expanded growth of fiber-optic cable networks for voice, video and data communications systems. These systems often require hundreds or thousands of connectors. And the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is expected to further boost widespread fiber-optic cable deployments by telephone and cable-TV companies for delivering multimedia services.

To keep readers updated on fiber-optic connector technology, this issue`s Special Report section covers connector markets, models, specifications and application trends (see page 33).

The first report, which deals with the aggressive connector market, forecasts increasing sales during the next decade. Stephen Montgomery, vice president and chief operations officer at Electronicast Corp., San Mateo, CA, projects that the North American market for singlemode and multimode connectors will grow at an annual rate of 22.5% for the 1994 to 1999 period and 17.5% for the 1999 to 2005 period. Sales are estimated to surge from $131 million in 1994 to $809 million in 2005. And the major installations, says Montgomery, include telecommunications networks (39% of market share in 2005) and premises data networks (34% of market share in 2005).

The fiercely competitive connector marketplace has generated a head-to-head technology debate in SC- and ST-type connectors, as discussed in another special report. Barbara Thompson, associate editor of Penn Well`s Cabling Installation & Maintenance magazine, describes the TIA/EIA`s endorsement of the SC push-pull engagement and disengagement technology over the ST twist-and-lock bayonet-latching approach. According to the two associations, the preferred SC connector proves well-suited for fiber-to-the-desk applications, duplex configurations and higher patch-panel densities.

Even though fiber-optic connectors are made by numerous suppliers that provide relatively similar low-loss specifications and sell at competitive prices, users still face daunting decisions in the selection process. According to another report by Mirjana Vukovic, connector product support specialist at JDS Fitel Inc., users aiming to buy the connector type that best meets their requirements should define a clear set of specifications, corroborate the supplier`s competence and verify the supplier`s test data.

Concerning the latest connector technology trends, freelancer Lynn Haber, in another special report, discovers that quick- connect products have emerged as mainstream devices. These connectors achieve a fast, secure interconnection; accommodate both singlemode and multimode fiber; come with a ceramic, stainless-steel or composite ferrule; and serve SC and ST assemblies. More important, they connect in less than five minutes and eliminate epoxies, and some models do not need polishing.

New connector models with tighter specifications, higher reliability, longer durability and affordable prices continue unabated in the fiber-optic connector market. The double-digit growth rate predicted for this highly competitive market over the next 10 years is a testament to a proficient and resourceful optical supplier community that other optical product segments would do well to emulate. q

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