4U loaded fiber patch panel
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What is a Fiber Patch Panel?

When you are planning to deploy your own cabling system unless it’s for personal use, otherwise a fiber patch panel is the essential must-buy product, although it doesn’t improve the cabling performance like a switch indispensable for its switching function.

But why?

This article will focus on the advantages of the fiber patch panel and explain why you’d better buy it.

Let’s dive in.

What is a fiber patch panel?

To put it simply, a fiber patch panel, also called ODF (Optical Distribution Frame), fiber distribution panel, patch bays, patch fields, or jack fields, is the interface panel linking fiber cables with optical equipment. It is like a nerve center of networking, providing a neat, organized, easy-to-manage way to arbitrarily interconnect the fiber cables in LAN (local area network) within its protective enclosure, which will greatly spare you lots of labor, time, and money. You don’t want to work in a messy and bothersome networking environment like each step had to step over the wiring, don’t you?

In addition, it significantly helps engineers to troubleshoot the discontinuity in wiring, replace the defective connectors, pigtails, patch cables, etc. Having it deployed, your wiring is well-ordered, and you can change cabling connections as you wish effortlessly, even move to another floor without vexing the cabling, as a fiber patch panel allows for all these possibilities. As it is labeled with the locations, thus all links or ports could be readily cabled back.

Finally, it permits an easy upgrade to a 40/100 G high-speed network, saving space, time, and installation cost.

We’ll go over its construction with these primary functions in mind to illustrate how it works.

Figure 1: a fiber patch panel
Figure 1: a fiber patch panel

Construction and workings of fiber patch panel

A fiber patch panel usually consists of a metal enclosure, and two compartments, one for the bulkhead receptacles or adapter panels, the other for splice trays, and space for excess cable storage, with a patch cable management tray optional.

The adapter panel grants an interface for both side ports. The inside ports are fastened to enable the always-on cable connection, while the outside ports are for fiber patching cables which can be plugged and unplugged as required.

The array of ports interfaces with patch cables terminated with LAN optical equipment. The splice trays, tidily embedded, are used to fusion splice with fiber pigtails plugged into the fastened inner adapter ports of the adapter panel.

Figure 2: the adapters in a fiber patch panel
Figure 2: the adapters in a fiber patch panel

Four mount types of fiber patch panels

Fiber patch panels are primarily mounted in 19” relay racks, whereas they can also be mounted on freestanding rails, in cabinets, and on walls. These are the four most common mount types of patch panels, i.e., rack-mountable, wall-mountable, outdoor-mountable, and DIN-mountable.

Rack-mountable fiber panel

This is the typical kind of fiber patch panels, and they’re mountable onto 19”, 21”, and 23” rack systems. Defined by the EIA-310 Standard,  the height of the fiber patch panel is measured by Rack Units, abbreviated U or RU, defined as 1 34 inches (44.45 mm). Conventionally, the specifications of fiber patch panels will list the number of RU needed.

Figure 3: Rack-mountable patch panel
Figure 3: Rack-mountable patch panel

A Rack-mountable panel holds the fibers horizontally. It has various dimensions, such as 1RU, 2RU, and 4RU, and comes in flat or angled versions. Larger size, more ports; thus, the number of ports varies from 12, 24, 48, 64, 72, 96, up to 288 and even more, for it has no limit in size theoretically, so are the ports.

1RU height of the patch panel is pervasive in data centers, whereas 2RU and 4RU are also used in high-density networking.

Figure 4: Rack Unit
Figure 4: Rack Unit

Wall-mountable fiber panel

Designed for direct termination of fibers, wall-mountable patch panels can be easily mounted to any wall by the internal mounting holes. Usually, they feature a compact design, equipped with routing guides to limit the bend radius to improve strain-relief control. Fabricated from steel sheets with a light textured black powder coat finish, they’re preferred when wall space is limited. Commonly, their surfaces are telco backboard (3/4″ plywood), concrete, or metallic panels. Obviously, fibers therefrom are protected from dust, scrape, scratch, etc.

wall-mountable patch panel
Figure 5: wall-mountable patch panel

Outdoor-mountable fiber panel

As the name implies, they’re installed outdoors, typically fabricated from fiberglass, steel, or aluminum, to keep fibers within away from climatic damage.

As for environmental protection, these panels should carry a NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association)rating of 4 or higher. For detailed information, refer to NEMA enclosure types.

Typically wall or pole installations are accommodated.

Figure 6: Outdoor-mountable fiber panel
Figure 6: Outdoor-mountable fiber panel

DIN-mountable fiber patch panel

This mount type accompanies a DIN rail; thus, the panels tend to be small and lightweight to mount onto a DIN rail, commonly seen in industrial installations. In the US, T-35 DIN rail is the most common.

A DIN clip attached to the DIN rail provides easy installation and removal.

Figure 7: DIN rail enclosures
Figure 7: DIN rail enclosures

When choosing the mount type of fiber patch panel, consider your planning deployment location, then select the most appropriate mount type.

Loaded vs. unloaded fiber patch panels

The panels also come in loaded or unloaded versions, equipped with or without assemblies.

Loaded patch panel

The loaded patch panel is loaded with adapter panels, MTP/MPO cassettes, or fiber pigtails. For instance, LC and MTP adapters are commonly preassembled with adapter panels in data center applications.

loaded fiber patch panel scaled
Figure 8: Loaded patch panel

Unloaded patch panel

The blank design means unloaded as a bare chassis, so it’s up to you to arrange cassettes, adapter panels, and splice trays.

Figure 9: Unloaded 1U 48 ports fiber patch panel
Figure 9: Unloaded 1U 48 ports fiber patch panel

Comparison of a loaded patch panel with an unloaded patch panel

The loaded fiber patch panel is handy for 40/100G migration, with LC adapter panels loaded in the front and MTP/MPO adapters in the rear, significantly reducing installation time while at the same time providing a high-density, flexible, and high-efficiency solution.

But everything comes with a price.

As loaded panels are often permanently mounted, so once the ports get damaged, you can’t replace them with new ports. That’s rather bothering.

By contrast, an unloaded fiber patch panel is more flexible. You could set up the assemblies as you wish. For example, you can mount multimedia fiber adapter panels on it and swap out defective ports at any instant. However, this means you have to spend more money on these accessories.

Enclosure designs

Another important aspect of fiber patch panels is that their enclosure designs are typically divided into three kinds: the removable lid variety, the slide-out variety, and the swing-out variety.

The removable lid variety costs the least, but you have to remove it entirely from the rack before gaining internal access.

Figure 10: removable lid fiber patch panel
Figure 10: removable lid fiber patch panel

The slide-out and swing-out types of fiber patch panels are relatively more expensive, as they grant you easy access to the fibers housed by them.

Figure 11: slide-out fiber patch panel
Figure 11: slide-out fiber patch panel

Figure 12: swing-out fiber patch panel
Figure 12: swing-out fiber patch panel

Essential patch panel specifications

  • Rack Unit height: 1RU, 2RU, 4RU, etc.
  • Mount type: rack-mountable, wall-mountable, outdoor-mountable, DIN-mountable
  • Loaded or unloaded
  • Enclosure designs: Fixed, sliding, or pivoting


Indeed, a fiber patch panel is a piece of fundamental cable management and termination tool. Though it doesn’t have a functional influence on the networking performance, it helps you avoid all the clutter or tangled wiring, enabling clean, tidy cabling, securing environment for exposed fibers, housing connectors, and fusion splicing. Furthermore, it has another vital function: quicker troubleshooting, as these labeled locations contribute much to the engineer finding the problem.

So, let’s go back to the original question: Why do we list a fiber patch panel as a must-buy product?

Can it be omitted?  

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