Even though fiber patch panels are commonly seen in cabling, still it’s confusing for newbies. What can fiber patch panels do? What are the common types of them? What are their structures? How do they work? Do I need to buy one for my networking? This article will focus on these questions.
What can fiber patch panels do?
A fiber patch panel acts as an intermediary to supply group management and termination of fiber cables. The internal routing of the LAN network is distributed by it; that’s why it is also called a fiber distribution panel.
What does this mean? It means that all your LAN connections are wired into it, usually labeled with position number, aiming at better cable management and fusion splice with fiber optic pigtails.
It is the ideal tool for terminating fiber optic cables and providing access to the cable’s individual fibers for cross-connection.
It helps to make your wiring orderly and tidy, replacing all the messy and bothersome if you don’t have it installed. Furthermore, it makes troubleshooting much more effortless.
What are the common types of them?
Generally speaking, there’re four common types in the market divided by mount types: Rack-mountable, Wall-mountable, Outdoor-mountable, and DIN-mountable fiber patch panels. Mostly mounted onto 19” relay racks, fiber patch panels are also mounted onto freestanding rails, cabinets, and walls.
Let’s take a broad overview of them respectively.
Rack-mountable fiber patch panels
As the name implies, Rack-mountable fiber patch panels are mounted onto relay racks, usually onto 19”, 21” and 23” rack systems; among them, the 19” rack mounting is the most popular.
Space-saving and light-weighted, Rack-mountable patch panels resemble a drawer, holding plug-and-play fiber adapter panels (FAPs) and cassettes horizontally, designed in 1RU, 2RU, 4RU sizes. RU stands for Rack Unit, abbreviated U or RU, defined by the EIA-310 Standard as 1 3⁄4 inches (44.45 mm).
As for the designs of Rack-mountable patch panels, there’re three kinds, i.e., patch panel with a removable lid, slide-out patch panel, and swing-out patch panel. For good reasons, the sliding rack-mountable and swing-out rack-mountable patch panels are more expensive than patch panels with removable lids. They allow easy internal access, whereas impossible for the latter.
Wall-mountable fiber patch panels
Designed to be mounted into a wall wherein wall space is valuable with the internal mounting holes, wall-mountable fiber patch panels are used for direct termination of several fibers, often equipped with routing guides to limit the bend radius to increase strain-relief control.
Outdoor-mountable fiber patch panels
These patch panels are installed outdoors; thus, a NEMA rating greater than or equal to 4 of the enclosure is required to protect inside accessories safe and sound. A typical NEMA enclosure might be rated to protect against environmental hazards, such as water, dust, wind, etc. Outdoor-mountable fiber patch panels are typically fiberglass, steel, or aluminum.
DIN-mountable fiber patch panel
This kind of fiber patch panel is mounted onto DIN Rails using DIN clips attached to the DIN rails. Therefore, its design tends to be small and lightweight. This mount type is preferred in an industrial environment. As for the DIN rail, the T-35 DIN rail is the most common.
Besides, according to the initial configuration, we can also divide them into two types, that is, unloaded versus loaded fiber patch panels.
Unloaded fiber patch panel
Obviously, an unloaded fiber patch panel is a bare chassis without accessories such as adapter panels, cassettes, or splice trays. It gives you high flexibility to arrange these accessories as required. However, with regards to this, you have to spend additional time, money, and labor to complete this task.
Loaded fiber patch panel
Conversely, loaded fiber patch panels are equipped with adapter panels, cassettes, splice trays, etc. It spares you the trouble of configuring the panel on your own. The side effect lies in that once a port gets damaged, it’s dead permanently, and you can’t swap it out as the ports preinstalled are fixed.
What are their structures?
We’ve illustrated the common mount types of fiber patch panels, but you may wonder what their structures are? We now know its function and common types, and we’d like to know their construction. So, let’s briefly introduce the structure of the fiber patch panel.
Basically speaking, a fiber patch panel is a metal enclosure that encloses the adapter panels, cassettes, splice trays, and excess storage. Adapter panels are designed to terminate with fiber patch cables terminated with other ports located elsewhere intra-buildings. Splice trays are used for fusion splice with fiber optic pigtails, which are plugged into the fastened inside ports of the adapter panels. Excess fiber storage is used for gathering excess fibers for better management. Optionally, patch cable management trays have neat storage of excessive patch cable lengths.
The inside ports of the panel are usually fixed so as not to ever disturb the connection, while the outside ports are reserved for fiber patch cables.
The fiber patch panel has two compartments. One is used for the bulkhead receptacles or adapters, and the other for splice trays and excess fiber storage.
How do they work?
As shown in the figure below, cables leading from network devices are wired into the back of the patch panel, whereas shorter patch cables at the front of the patch panel connect the devices to switches or other patch panels. Network devices refer to wall sockets, computers, phones, hubs, etc. It’s easy to change the routing because all you have to do is alter the sockets as needed.
Fiber Termination in the Patch Panel
There’re two fiber termination methods; one approach uses fiber pigtails, which are to be fusion splice by splice trays, and the other approach is on-site termination using the fiber optic connectors directly installed onto the individual fibers.
Each approach has its advantages. The pigtail approach offers the best termination quality as fusion splice has the lowest loss and can be done within seconds, quicker than the connector approach. However, the connector also provides more flexibility, making the splice trays redundant.
Do I need to buy one for my networking?
As mentioned above, both for better cabling management and termination and quicker troubleshooting, you’d better have the fiber patch panels deployed in your networking, as they’re not expensive.
So why not?