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Future-Proofing Your Fiber: Selecting Outdoor Enclosures for FTTX Deployments

As the country witnesses an unprecedented surge in FTTX deployments, the stakes have never been higher for broadband and wireless network buildouts. Amidst this booming expansion, one of the most critical, yet challenging decisions lies in selecting the right outdoor enclosures to safeguard the intricate web of fiber optic cabling at the heart of every network. Discover why durability and flexibility in outdoor enclosures are not just technical requirements, but strategic decisions that can significantly impact the longevity, reliability, and scalability of FTTX networks.

The FTTX Horizon

In the past few years there were formidable sparks flying in the area of Fiber to the X (FTTX) deployments in the United States. First, there’s the rush to support accelerated adoption of remote work. Second, there’s a historic flush of available funding from federal and state governments allocated to expanding broadband access. Third, there’s the rise of smart city initiatives and the Internet of Things (IoT). There's an ever-increasing demand for high-speed internet, requiring robust and reliable internet infrastructure. It’s all adding up to market pressures and customer expectations demanding superior bandwidth.

Now, those sparks are starting to catch fire. Last year, the United States experienced its highest yearly increase in fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) connections, with nine million homes getting fiber access, exceeding the prior record of around eight million set the previous year. All indications point to this pace not only continuing but increasing, with expectations to connect an additional 12 million homes with fiber by 2024. This rapid growth doesn’t just apply to FTTH, either. The industry is seeing major increases in all models of fiber optic communication delivery, including Fiber to the Building (FTTB) and Fiber to the Curb (FTTC). Across the board, the global FTTX market is projected to almost double between 2020 and 2027, a rate of nearly 10% every year. For companies performing broadband and wireless network build outs, the iron to strike has never been hotter.

Setting Up For Success

There is much work to be done with FTTX, and much money to be made. How can an organization ensure they’re prepared to maximize their efforts on a new deployment? Whether you’re a telecommunications company, internet service provider, cable company, utility, or even a real estate developer, there are many obstacles, from compliance to costs to security. Staying ahead and doing the job right can be tricky.

Perhaps the most important task new deployments face is finding reliable and effective materials—the right infrastructure components and cabling equipment for the job at hand. For example, let’s look at something every project needs: outdoor enclosures for cable termination and splicing. What should organizations be looking for when selecting enclosure boxes for their project? How can they be sure their vendor and products meet the challenge? Let’s take a look at the two most important factors: durability and flexibility.

Demand for Durability

Outdoor enclosures must provide adequate protection against a range of environmental conditions such as water ingress (rain, flooding), humidity, dust, UV radiation from sunlight, and extreme temperatures. Moreover, the enclosure must withstand not just the environmental conditions but also potential chemical or corrosive elements specific to the installation site, such as saltwater in coastal areas. Simply put, the durability of materials over the expected service life of the enclosure without significant maintenance or degradation is a critical factor for the bottom line of any FTTX deployment. Here are a few important elements to look at when selecting an enclosure:

-Does the enclosure meet Ingress Protection (IP) ratings?
-Is it constructed with a heavy-duty, outdoor-rated material, such as ABS or weather-resistant thermoplastic, or UV-protected PVC?
-Does the enclosure come with built-in weather-tight grommets?
-Does the enclosure have a sufficient operating temperature range?
-Does the enclosure come with water-proof plugs for unused entry or exit ports?

One other notable equipment area to watch for durability is the accompanying passive solutions such as adapters, splitters, splices, filters and XWDM. Just like the enclosures themselves, these components need to be specifically designed for outdoor use and provide adequate protection against environmental factors.

The need for robust protection makes the selection process for enclosures complex, but if you watch carefully for important factors, you can ensure you avoid troublesome replacement or maintenance down the road.

Finding Flexibility

Not all networks are equal. In fact, no two deployments are the same. For instance, there are physical and geographical factors, especially in areas with difficult terrain (like mountains or rivers), high-density urban environments (with existing underground utilities congestion), or protected areas with environmental or historical preservation concerns. Additionally, there are technical challenges, such as ensuring signal integrity over long distances, managing splitting ratios in GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Networks), and integrating with existing networks where the infrastructure is outdated, in disrepair, or not optimally routed for current needs.

All of this adds up to a heightened need for flexibility, as enclosures must meet the requirements of your specific project. On top of that, there’s the issue of future growth and upgrades. The right enclosure should not only satisfy your current needs but also allow for future expansion without being excessively large or costly. Enclosures come in various sizes and capacities to accommodate different amounts of cabling and equipment, so how can you be sure your equipment will be fully compatible with your needs?

The answer to this question is actually more about the vendor than the product. Due to the wide variety of buildout environments, some suppliers offer the capability to create custom-engineered solutions to meet your unique installation requirements. With fully tailored enclosures, you can ensure compatibility with your equipment no matter what. Here are a few areas to look at to see if your enclosure vendor can design pieces to meet your needs:

1) Are the cables pre-terminated?
2) What connector types are accepted?

3) How many cable entry ports are available?
4) What length of stubs or pigtails are available?
5) Can the enclosure be pole-mounted and wall-mounted?
6) What fiber optic cable types and cable constructions are accepted?
7) Will splicing be done? If so, how many splices can be accommodated?
8) How many LC or SC fiber connectors and/or adapters will the enclosure accept?

9) What type of passive solutions (e.g. splitters, filters or XWDM) can be installed?

How you answer each of these questions will determine what type of customized solution you require. For example, use of pre-terminated cables may require clam-shell type entry points or grommets that can be split. Finding exactly what you need can be a challenge. A solid outdoor enclosure provider should be able to provide the exact configuration you require, no matter the situation.

Optimizing with Opticonx

With Opticonx, you can rest easy that your fiber optic cabling solutions will meet your needs with every foot of fiber laid. For one, our enclosures feature top-notch weather proofing, providing maximum protection from the wide range of outdoor elements experienced in the US. On top of that, our enclosures are fully customizable, with endless configurations for any cable or connection. No matter how you lay out your network, there is a fully-compatible and highly-durable solution for you.

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