With the nation’s largest fiber providers, including AT&T, Verizon, Frontier, Lumen (CenturyLink / Quantum), and Windstream planning to collectively pass ~55 million homes with fiber by 2030, the fiber optic cable installation process, meaning actually connecting those homes with internet service, is becoming increasingly critical and important to understand.

As a whole, the fiber optic cable installation process bridges the gap between households that “can” be connected with fiber and households that “are” connected with fiber – to deliver high-speed internet, video, and voice services. In other words, a fiber provider’s customer penetration rate.

Dgtl Infra provides an in-depth overview of the fiber optic cable installation process, which involves a fiber drop, fiber splicing, mounting a “wall box” or termination enclosure, enabling fiber to enter the home, setting-up an optical network terminal (ONT), and activating internet, video, and voice services over fiber. Additionally, we answer key questions including What Do Fiber Installers Do? and How Long Does Fiber Installation Take? Finally, Dgtl Infra reviews the fiber installation costs for both the provider and customer.

What Is Fiber Installation?

Fiber installation involves taking a residential home from the construction phase of being a “household passed” to being “connected” or installed with fiber. The differences between these two phases are:

  • Household Passed: fiber optic cable “goes by” a home along the street, meaning the home is “capable” of being served by a provider’s fiber optic distribution plant, but it may not be “connected” yet
  • Connected: a fiber optic “drop” cable from the closest network access point connects to the home. This enables a customer to order and receive internet, video, and voice services from their fiber provider

If you want to understand more about the initial “household passed” phase, as well as the process and build costs for fiber optic network construction, then check-out Dgtl Infra’s prior analysis here:

READ MORE: Fiber Optic Network Construction: Process and Build Costs

In the following fiber installation overview, we use the example of a single-family home being “connected” or installed with fiber optic services.

Preparing for Fiber Optic Installation

Prior to installing fiber to the home (FTTH), a fiber provider conducts civil engineering, make ready, and permitting works, which include the following tasks:

  • Civil Engineering: site survey, terrain inspection, utility conflicts analysis (e.g., power and water), mapping
  • Make Ready: on-site examination of the ground or poles being used to bring fiber from the street, towards the home
  • Permitting: submission of engineering plans, details of installing or moving equipment, and securing municipal rights of way

Once a customer orders fiber to the home (FTTH) service, a specialist fiber optic cable installer and “truck roll” are dispatched to the customer’s home for service connection and placement of new equipment.

READ MORE: Fiber to the Home (FTTH) vs FTTP, FTTN, FTTC, and FTTB

What is a Fiber Drop?

A fiber drop is the process of connecting a fiber service provider’s access point, through fiber optic cable, to the optical network terminal (ONT) on the side of a customer’s home.

Fiber to the Home (FTTH) Network
Fiber to the Home (FTTH) Network Illustration with Drop
Source: Clearfield

New service activation requires the installation and connection of a fiber “drop” cable, from the “household passed” point, to the home. This location is referred to as a “drop” point and can take the form of a fiber pedestal (above-ground access point), handhole, manhole, chamber, or utility / telephone pole.

Fiber Pedestals and Inserts – from Clearfield
Fiber Pedestals and Inserts for Fiber Drop Point

A “drop” point signifies the location where a fiber transport network feeder cable, that originates from a fiber provider’s central office (CO), is terminated or connectorized. If the optical fiber is not terminated or connectorized, then the other common method of joining optical fibers is called splicingwhich is discussed in the next section.

From this “drop” point, a fiber installer will connect a fiber “drop” cable to a box on the exterior wall of a home in two primary ways:

  • Underground: laying fiber optic cable underground utilizing plowing, trenching, or directional bore techniques. Alternatively, if underground ducts are available, then the fiber optic cable can be run to the home through this infrastructure
  • Aerially: fiber optic cable is run across overhead utility or telephone poles to a pre-determined location at a customer’s home

What is Meant by Fiber Splicing?

Fiber splicing is a fiber-to-fiber connection, meaning joining the ends of two fiber strands together. Below we discuss the preparation and process of fiber splicing:

Preparation for Fiber Cable Splicing

In order to prepare the fiber for splicing, the fiber optic cable must be stripped down to the optical fiber itself, removing all protective components.

In this example installation, the fiber optic cable includes a metal shield inside the outer jacket, multiple strands of fiber inside a buffer tube, strands of Kevlar that further protect the buffer tube, and rip cords that are used in removing the outer jacket.

Fiber Optic Cable Cross Section
Fiber Optic Cable Cross Section
Source: CommScope

Preparation begins by removing a portion of the outer jacket of the fiber optic cable, utilizing the rip cords. This will expose the metal shield, buffer tube, and strands of Kevlar. Next, the metal shield and strands of Kevlar are removed and discarded, leaving only the uncovered buffer tube. Peeling back the buffer tube will expose the optical fiber, which will be used for splicing.

After the fiber has been stripped, it will be cleaned with alcohol, placed in holders, and cut to a precise length using a fiber cleaver. Also, a splice protection sleeve is added, to safeguard the optical fiber following splicing.

How Do You Splice a Fiber Cable?

Splicing is commonly used to connect the “active” fiber being brought into the home with the newly deployed fiber within the home. Below are two examples of fiber being spliced at different locations of the home:

1) Splicing a Fiber Drop

The video below illustrates how a fiber drop is spliced, with the “drop” point being located at a fiber pedestal outside the customer’s home. This splicing allows for an individual fiber to be run to a customer’s home for installation.

2) Splicing Fiber at the Optical Network Terminal (ONT)

The following video shows how fiber is spliced at an optical network terminal (ONT) mounted on the wall of a customer’s home.

What are the Methods of Fiber Splicing?

The two methods of fiber splicing are fusion splicing and mechanical splicing, with fusion splicing being the most common method used for fiber optic splicing.

In the fusion splicing process, a specialized fusion splicer machine is used to precisely align the two fiber ends. Then, the glass ends are “fused” together using an electric arc. Subsequently, the fusion splicer’s heater is utilized to shrink the splice protection sleeve.

After splicing, the two fibers are contiguous, forming a transparent continuous connection and optical path between the fibers.

Fitel Ninja NJ001 Fusion Splicer

Below is an example of a commonly used fusion splicer which is manufactured by Furukawa Electric and is known as the Fitel Ninja NJ001.

Fitel Ninja NJ001 Fusion Splicer by Furukawa Electric

How is Fiber Installed at a Home?

Fiber optic cable is installed at a home through: i) a “wall box” or termination enclosure, ii) by creating an entry point for the fiber, and iii) through an optical network terminal (ONT).

“Wall Box” or Termination Enclosure

Initially, a fiber installer will mount a “wall box” or termination enclosure on the side of a home, near the home’s main electrical panel. This wall box creates a demarcation point or “demarc” between the service provider’s fiber network and that of the customer. Typically, fiber optic cable enters the termination enclosure encased in a riser pipe (conduit).

Fiber Wall Box or Termination Enclosure

This wall box serves two primary purposes:

  1. Storage of Slack: any fiber optic cable that is left over from the “drop” to the home, or going into the home, can be coiled inside of the wall box
  2. Maintenance: by having a wall box on the exterior of a home, a fiber technician does not initially need to go into a home to resolve network issues. Instead, fiber technicians can start their network diagnostic review from the outside of the home. At the same time, from the wall box, fiber technicians are able to disconnect both sides of the fiber drop to determine where the problem might be

Ultimately, the optical network terminal (ONT) – discussed below – is placed into the “wall box” / termination enclosure.

How Does Fiber Optic Cable Enter the Home?

Commonly, a fiber installer will drill a hole from the inside of the home, to the outside of the home, which goes through both interior and exterior walls. Fiber optic cable will be run through this hole, such that it can enter the home, as well as reach the termination enclosure on the outside of the home. Alternatively, when possible, the fiber can also be run into a home along existing air-conditioning or utility lines.

Any entry and exit point holes must be sealed with silicone or caulk to prevent the penetration of insects, dirt, and rain into the home or termination enclosure.

What Does the Optical Network Terminal (ONT) Do?

All fiber-based services are delivered by a fiber provider to a home through an optical network terminal (ONT), which are transceivers located at the customer’s home. The installer will terminate the fiber optic cable connection at an ONT, which converts the fiber’s light/optical signals to electrical signals, enabling the in-home network to deliver internet, video, and voice services.

An ONT must be fed by a power supply at all times, such as a power cable or battery backup, in the event that there is a power outage.

Calix 727GE ONT for Single-Family Homes

Below is an example of an optical network terminal (ONT) used for single-family homes, known as the Calix 727GE ONT. This unit supports gigabit Ethernet passive optical network (GPON) transmission technology and point-to-point gigabit Ethernet, in a single ONT.

Calix 727GE ONT for Single-Family Homes

An optical network terminal (ONT) is also commonly referred to as an optical network unit (ONU) or network interface device (NID).

Service Activation

The optical network terminal (ONT) functions similar to a modem (i.e., providing a connection to the Internet) and has an RJ-45 Ethernet port to connect to the customer’s router. The router enables the connection of multiple devices within the home, over Wi-Fi or a wired Ethernet connection. Also, some indoor ONTs act as a gateway, combining the functionality of a router and modem into one device.

Fiber Optic Connection from Central Office to Home

As shown below, fiber optic connections can be made to optical network terminals (ONTs) which reside both inside and outside of the home. In the outdoor ONT example, an Ethernet cable acts as the final link to connect the outdoor ONT to the customer’s indoor router.

Once the customer’s home has been connected to the ONT, the fiber provider is able to deliver internet, video, and voice services over fiber. Internet signals can then be broadcast via the customer’s router or gateway device trough Wi-Fi.

READ MORE: Fiber Broadband Internet Is The Future For Your Home

What Do Fiber Installers Do?

Fiber optic installers perform civil engineering works, fiber optic cable laying, set-up of cabinets and “wall boxes” or termination enclosures, fiber splicing, vertical (riser) and horizontal (floor) cabling, as well as jointing and testing of laid fiber optic cable components.

How Long Does Fiber Installation Take?

On average, installation of a fiber “drop” cable from a “drop” point to the home takes 1 to 5 working days, depending on whether the fiber needs to be buried underground or run aerially on overhead lines. Underground fiber installations are much more time consuming (than aerial connections) and, as such, the process can take upwards of 7 working days to complete.

Once the fiber reaches a customer’s “wall box” or termination enclosure on the side of their home, the remaining installation process takes only 3 to 6 hours. This portion of the installation process involves bringing the fiber into the home and setting-up the optical network terminal (ONT), which provides a connection to the Internet.

Fiber Installation Costs – Provider and Customer

How Much Does it Cost to Connect Fiber to the Home?

As a whole, the average cost for a service provider to connect fiber to one subscriber’s home ranges between $500 to $700. These costs include the fiber “drop”, optical network terminal (ONT) for internet service, customer premises equipment (router or gateway), and labor to perform the fiber optic cable installation process.

Of this total, the optical network terminal (ONT) and customer premises equipment (CPE) cost the provider around $200 per home.

READ MORE: Broadband Investment and Deployment is Accelerating

Is There an Installation Fee for Fiber?

On the customer end, a one-time installation fee of $75 to $99 is typically charged by fiber internet providers to customers. This installation fee is in addition to the monthly service fees paid by customers and helps the fiber internet provider offset some of the previously mentioned fiber optic cable installation costs.

What is an Internet Equipment Fee?

An internet equipment fee comprises a monthly fee to rent a modem and/or router from an internet service provider (ISP). In the case of a fiber provider, the internet equipment fee would include the cost to rent an indoor optical network terminal (ONT) or gateway (modem and router combination).

Generally, internet equipment fees range between $10 to $15 per month, depending on the fiber provider. Again, these fees help the fiber provider offset the cost of the ONT and customer premises equipment (CPE) over time.

Jonathan Kim covers Fiber for Dgtl Infra, including Zayo Group, Cogent Communications (NASDAQ: CCOI), Uniti Group (NASDAQ: UNIT), Lumen Technologies (NYSE: LUMN), Frontier Communications (NASDAQ: FYBR), Consolidated Communications (NASDAQ: CNSL), and many more. Within Fiber, Jonathan focuses on the sub-sectors of wholesale / dark fiber, enterprise fiber, fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP), and subsea cables. Jonathan has over 8 years of experience in research and writing for Fiber.

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