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Field-aging study shows strength

of optical ground wire cable

he telecommunications indus- mechanical reliability refers to its inherent The cable in this study is a tight-structure
try has always relied on labora- strength over time, which may define the type OPT-GW design, introduced to the elec-
tory test results to ensure the long- mechanical resistance to failure and the life tric utility industry by AFL in 1985. OPT-GW
term performance of optical fibers expectancy of a system. Fiber handleability cable serves two primary functions.
and cables in the field. Tests had to relates to the ability of a system to be ser- Installed at the highest position of a high-
be developed to predict reliability viced. System owners must be able to strip voltage transmission line, the cable first
because real-life installations were too recent cable, prepare and strip fiber ends, make serves as a lightning shield and a path to
to be considered long-term. new connections, re-route fibers, and per- ground should a fault occur on the current-
Now the industry is beginning to test form general maintenance over many years carrying phase conductors strung below. A
field-aged cable. As we move toward a third of ever-changing conditions. Optical reliabili- static wire traditionally has provided this
decade of installed fiber optics, comparisons ty refers to the system’s ability to resist function. OPT-GW cable includes metallic

Nine years in a harsh environment provides a severe field test

of fiber-optic cable.
may be drawn between results of accelerat-
ed aging tests performed in laboratory envi-
ronments and those of tests on fibers and Mark L. Lundergan Corning Inc.
cables that have spent years actually work- Kurt M. Dallas Alcoa Fujikura Ltd.
ing under harsh field conditions.
Corning Inc. and Alcoa Fujikura Ltd. (AFL) increased attenuation over time. components to provide the electrical path to
recently conducted a joint study of a field- Until recently, these characteristics typical- ground.
aged fiber-optic cable to determine whether ly were studied using tests such as thermal Second, the cable contains optical fibers in
aging in the field produces results different aging, temperature cycle, and water soaks. its center, transmitting optical signals at high
from those produced in laboratory environ- In the field tests, performance of attributes data rates over long distances. Utilities have
ments. The subject of the study was a 3.7-km such as attenuation, gas pressure tightness been deploying optical-fiber networks over
section of a 12-fiber optical ground wire on the OPT-GW pipe, color permanence, strip their rights-of-way to provide communica-
(OPT-GW) cable manufactured by AFL. The force, and strength after mechanical strip- tions for many years. The use of OPT-GW has
cable was deployed in the field for nine ping gives insight into the aging char-
years in southern Wisconsin, enduring some acteristics of the cable and fiber. These
Table 1. Extreme Weather in Southern
of the harshest conditions in the United characteristics also may give insight
Wisconsin (Jan. 1985 to Dec. 1995)
States—temperature extremes, heavy ice into any reliability or handleability con-
loading, and high wind velocity. cerns, as well as possible correlation
Min. temperature −33°C 1/18/94
between laboratory and field-aging
Importance of lab testing results. The purpose of the study was Max. temperature 39°C 8/16/88
System owners and manufacturers have to analyze cable and fiber attributes Max. snowfall 44 cm 12/3/90
always valued the mechanical and optical and compare those findings to original
Max. sustained wind 46 km/hr 12/20/90
reliability, as well as the “handleability,” of cable and fiber performance character-
optical fibers. For our purposes, a fiber’s istics and specifications. Max. wind gust 116 km/hr 7/7/91

Reprinted from the October 1997 edition of LIGHTWAVE

Copyright 1997 by PennWell
Table 2. Strain History of Retrieved Optical Ground Wire performance. Of particular interest is the cli-
matological and in-service stress history of
Condition Duration (hr) Stress (1% of RBS) Strain (%) the cable.
Final EDS 78,840* 10.9 0.08
Ice and wind 72** 28.6 0.20 Installed environment and weather patterns
Due to the low temperatures, high winds,
Low temperature 72** 16.7 0.12
and large amounts of frozen precipitation
Maximum wind gust (13 psf) <1*** 15.3 0.11 during the year, the southern Wisconsin area
Minimum temperature (−27°C) 2-4*** 17.3 0.12 is considered a heavy loading area by the
National Electrical Safety Code. During an
* (24 hr/day) × (365 days/yr) × 9 yr = 78,840 hr EDS - Everyday stress average winter, cables may encounter maxi-
** (8 hr/yr) × (9 yr) = 72 hr RBS - Rated breaking strength
*** Actual conditions encountered on 7/7/91 and 1/18/94 mum sustained winds over 40 km/hr, tem-
peratures lower than −30°C, and radial ice
proven to be very reliable due to its rugged All fibers in this study were standard loading of up to 1.3 cm. All of these condi-
construction and location high above Corning silica-clad singlemode coated with tions create extreme change and stress on the
ground, preventing accidental damage. a mechanically strippable dual-layer acry- cable system.
The design of the OPT-GW cable in this late coating system. Such fibers have been Actual extremes during the nine-year time
study is shown in Fig. 1. The nomenclature produced and deployed widely since the frame, as reported by the National Weather
56 mm2/469 refers to the cross-sectional early 1980s. Six of the fibers were overcoated Bureau in Madison, WI, are summarized in
area of the stranded aluminum-clad steel with a thin layer of solvent-based colored Table 1. Figure 2 shows graphically the wind,
wires (56 sq mm) and the outer diameter in ink, while the remaining six were left uncol- temperature, and ice-loading parameters as
thousandths of an inch (0.469 inch). ored. quarterly extremes between January 1986
Although this nomenclature involves both The 12-fiber cable formed part of a fiber and December 1995. The figures show signif-
English and metric units, currently it is the network located in southern Wisconsin. The icant environmental change in this location.
industry standard method of identifying a cable was manufactured in January 1986 The stress history for an installed cable
particular OPT-GW design. and installed during the first quarter of that comprises both the installed everyday stress
The cable includes a central strength year. The 3.7-km length of cable was (EDS) and the environmentally induced
member that is coated with a soft polymer installed on a 138kV high-voltage transmis- stress. The installed, or final, EDS of approxi-
jacket. Twelve singlemode fibers are helical- sion line between Rock River and mately 10.9% of the cable’s rated breaking
ly stranded around the coated central Darlington. The system ran continuously strength (RBS) was obtained from the original
strength member and embedded in a soft with no interruptions from its activation in sag and tension tables used for the installa-
polymer matrix, which couples the fibers to 1986 until the owner de-installed the cable in tion. Based on this data and the environ-
the central strength member. A sheath is 1995 and allowed the fiber and cable manu- mental information, it is possible to estimate
applied over the soft polymer matrix, form- facturers to conduct aging/functionality the cable’s additive strain history. Because
ing the optical unit. Aramid yarn and heat- testing. the design of the OPT-GW cable uses tight
resistant tape are stranded over the unit’s Understanding the cable’s environmental structure construction, fiber strain is approx-
sheath before it is inserted into an aluminum and stress history is critical to accurate inter- imately equal to the cable strain. Given this
pipe. While this cable design is first genera- pretation of the de-installed cable’s aging relationship, a 1% cable strain can produce
tion, the basic concepts are used in today’s
higher-fiber-count OPT-GW cable designs, 56 mm2/469 OPT-GW Cable Design
which can reach hundreds of fibers. Aluminum clad steel wire (×11)
The aluminum pipe provides a significant
amount of the total electrical conductance of Aluminum pipe
the cable. The yarn and tape provide a heat
Polymer sheath
barrier under fault current conditions, when
the temperature inside the cable can exceed 11.9 mm Central strength member
100°C for fractions of a second. The yarn also
provides strain relief and a means of tying Optical fibers (×12)
off the optical unit at each splice enclosure. Polymer matrix
The cable construction is completed by 11
aluminum-clad steel wires stranded over the Aramid yarn, tape
aluminum pipe. These wires provide not
only the majority of the tensile strength of Fig. 1. This diagram depicts the 56 mm2/469 optical ground wire used for the test. The
the cable but also more electric cable con- nomenclature 56 mm2/469 refers to the cross-sectional area of the stranded aluminum-clad
ductance. steel wires (56 sq mm) and the outer diameter in thousandths of an inch (0.469 inch).
performance, AFL evaluated several critical then taken from −40° to +85°C and held at
Wind Velocity, Temperature, Ice Loading cable/fiber performance attributes. The that temperature for 24 hours. The same
(1986-1995) Madison, WI cable was visually inspected, attenuation cycle (−40° to +85°C) was repeated before
110 performance and temperature dependence returning to room temperature. Attenuation
90 were measured, and the pipe gas pressure changes at 1550 nm across the −40° to +85°C
was checked to evaluate if any aging or dete- range on all cycles remained below 0.01
30 rioration of the cable and fibers was present. dB/km, and well below the original 0.20-
10 Where possible, the findings were com- dB/km cable specification. These results
Gusts Sustained winds
pared with those obtained before cable compare well to current OPT-GW tempera-
installation. Since some of the tests per- ture-dependence data.
formed were not part of the original inspec- The gas pressure tightness test verified the

tion nine years earlier, it was necessary to integrity of the aluminum pipe that con-
-20 use typical data for cable and fibers of this tained the 12-fiber optical unit. Because the
-40 vintage. The cable was inspected for signs of aluminum pipe hermetically isolates the
Maximum temperature Minimum temperature
aging, corrosion, fatigue, deterioration, and fibers from the external environment, the
40 damage. None were found. pipe was tested for gas pressure tightness.
Ice (cm)

30 All fibers were measured for normalized This test was developed by AFL to verify pipe
20 attenuation at both 1310 and 1550 nm. integrity after manufacture and can detect
10 Measurements were made using a Photon cracks and punctures down to micrometer
Kinetics 6500 Single-Mode optical time- sizes.
'86 '87 '88 '89 '90 '91 '92 '93 '94 '95
domain reflectometer in accordance with The test was performed by applying
Fig. 2. These charts of the wind velocity, tem- industry-recommended test procedures. approximately 65 lb per sq. in. (psi) of inert
perature, and ice loading in Wisconsin for the The values were compared to both the orig- gas pressure at one end of the cable, while
period 1986 to 1995 illustrate the harsh con- inal performance values and the original monitoring the pressure at the opposite end.
ditions endured by the cable. cable specification. The air supply valve is left open until the
The attenuation results (Table 3) show a pressure starts to increase at the other end.
approximately 100 kpsi of stress on the range of values at both 1310 (0.33 to 0.37 The pressure is allowed to equalize at both
fibers. dB/km) and 1550 nm (0.22 to 0.26 dB/km). ends to approximately 40 psi. The pass/fail
The duration and magnitude of cable All values are consistent with the original criterion requires that the equilibrium pres-
stress (percent of RBS) and fiber strain (per- 1985 specification requirements. These sure at both ends be maintained for at least
cent) based on an average span length of 177 results illustrate the cable is still performing five hours. The field-aged cable maintained
m are summarized in Table 2. As evident well, with no signs of attenuation increase equilibrium pressure for the required five-
from the table and the information above, due to aging or bending. hour period. The results confirm that no pipe
fibers inside the cable experienced a signifi- In a second cable/fiber performance test, degradation (such as cracking or weld split-
cant amount of strain and environmental the cable was temperature cycled from −40° to ting) had occurred anywhere along the 3.7-
change throughout their nine-year service. +85°C. Fibers were randomly spliced and km length after nine years of service.
But none of this environmental change had concatenated together to form a continuous
any measurable impact on the cable or fibers. fiber path of approximately 23 km. Fiber testing and results
Attenuation was monitored at 1550 nm dur- After the cable evaluation was complete,
Cable testing and results ing the entire test. fiber samples were carefully removed,
To verify the condition of the retrieved cable The cable was taken from room tempera- shipped to Corning, and subjected to a vari-
and to assess handleability and reliability ture to −40°C and held there for 24 hours, ety of fiber evaluations. The results were
compared to other fibers from the same era,
industry requirements, and as-drawn fibers.
Table 3. Average Attenuation Results, OTDR length = 3734 m Testing included visual examination, color
Condition 1310 nm (dB/km) 1550 nm (dB/km) permanency, strip force, as-removed
strength, strength after mechanical strip, and
Aged average 0.35 0.23
Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) analysis.
Range 0.33—0.37 0.22—0.26 Testing was completed in accordance with
industry-approved standards. Each fiber
Aged standard deviation 0.01 0.01 was examined for any signs of deterioration.
1985 requirement ≤0.50 ≤0.40 Technicians testing the fiber indicated that
the fibers appeared normal, and no deterio-
1985 typical 0.37 0.26 ration was observed during handling and
testing of each of the 12 fibers.
Table 4. Average Fiber Strip Force Results aged coating appears to have all its as-
drawn characteristics.
Sample Mean Strip Force (N) Standard Deviation (N) This study shows no indication of perfor-
Retrieved cable (uncolored) 4.08 0.62 mance degradation of the OPT-GW cable or
Retrieved cable (colored) 4.13 0.29 the fibers after nine years of service in south-
ern Wisconsin. The cable performed well,
10 yr archived, coat A 2.12 0.14 and fiber reliability and handleability
10 yr archived, coat B 3.16 0.33 appear to be consistent with as-drawn and
as-manufactured fiber and cable systems.
New OPT-GW, coat C 4.86 1.56
Each characteristic tested either met or
New OPT-GW, coat B 2.89 0.29 exceeded the original performance specifica-
Bellcore requirement 1.3—8.7
Other field studies conducted by Corning
Color clarity and permanence were tested for the aged samples. also show that normal-to-severe field aging
each of the six colored fibers and given a Strength after mechanical strip (SAMS) testing of fiber-optic cabling systems has no impact
Munsell Color System rating. The results was completed on the field-aged OPT- on the functional or handling characteristics
were compared to today’s wire and cable GW/fiber samples along with recent as- of the optical fibers. Furthermore, this result
limits. All six colors were within the color drawn fibers. SAMS testing was performed to indicates that even under extreme environ-
tolerance and, more importantly, were dis- assess the fiber’s handleability and strength mental conditions—including documented
tinguishable and continuous in color around after mechanical coating strip. In this test, cases of strong wind gust, heavy snow, and
the circumference and length of the fiber fiber is strength tested (0.5-m gauge length, very low temperatures during a nine-year
tested. Earlier published studies showed 5% strain/min, in ambient conditions) using service life—this particular OPT-GW cable
some issues with color cracking and flaking standard Instron equipment. The fiber’s design provides excellent performance and
after laboratory aging. There was no evi- strength is tested after a 30-mm portion of fiber protection.
dence of this with the field-aged samples. the coating is mechanically removed from Aging characteristics for installed optical-
Strip force indicates a craftperson’s ability
to remove coating from the glass without
undue fiber stress or breakage. In this test,
Table 5. Fiber Strength and Strength after Mechanical Strip (SAMS)
10 samples of each cable/fiber combination, Strength SAMS

both old and new, were tested for peak strip Sample Median Weibull Median Weibull
force. Each result was then compared to a Strength (kpsi) Modulus (m) Strength (kpsi) Modulus (m)
desired peak strip force of 1.3 to 8.7 N, as Retrieved cable 665 >90 156 3.3
outlined in industry documentation. Results Current fiber samples 666 >90 161 2.4
in Table 4 show the fiber strip force of the
field-aged OPT-GW cable is similar not only to the center of the fiber. Standard “off-the- fiber cables are becoming better understood.
other fibers from the same 1985 to 1986 time shelf” strippers are used to mechanically While earlier studies may have warned of
frame (tested under the same conditions), strip the fiber’s coating. A summary of the impending danger, it appears that the first
but also to the newer generation OPT- results is shown in Table 5. The data show installations are old enough to provide wor-
GW/fiber combinations tested under the that the aged cable/fiber samples are com- thy field data. This data, combined with lab-
same conditions. All fibers met the require- parable to as-drawn fiber. For the retrieved oratory understanding, can give insight to
ment. samples, the median SAMS was 156 kpsi (1.09 the aging or long-term mechanical and opti-
Fiber strength measurements were per- GN/sq m) compared to 161 kpsi (1.13 cal reliability of optical fibers and cables.
formed on 30 randomly selected fiber sam- GN/sq m) for as-drawn fiber. As cables and fibers are deployed further
ples from the aged OPT-GW cable. The fibers FT-IR spectroscopy analysis was performed into the networks, there is increased interest
were tested in tension at 2.5% strain/min on aged and un-aged coating samples. In in understanding how networks perform in
rate with 0.5-m gauge lengths. this test, coating samples of the field-aged adverse environments. Based on these types
Environmental conditions were 22.2°C and clear fiber—both the inner and outer prima- of studies, system owners can be confident
50% RH. Testing was conducted on as- ry coatings—were tested and compared to in the reliability and functionality of yester-
drawn silica-clad fiber of recent vintage for the same as-drawn coating system. Results day’s, today’s, and tomorrow’s fiber-com-
comparison. The results are summarized in showed a match between the field-aged munications infrastructure.◆
Table 5. The field-aged fibers had a median spectra, both inner and outer primary, and
strength of 665 kpsi (4.65 GN/sq m) while the as-drawn coating spectra. This result Mark L. Lundergan is senior applications engi-
the as-drawn samples had a median indicates that the chemical structure of the neer at Corning Inc., Corning, NY. Kurt M.
strength of 666 kpsi (4.65 GN/sq m). field-aged sample is consistent to as-drawn Dallas is product and applications manager at
Strength degradation was not observed with fiber and, more importantly, that the field- Alcoa Fujikura Ltd., Spartanburg, SC.