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How Optical Time Domain Reflectometers (OTDRs) Work

Optical time domain reflectometers (commonly abbreviated as OTDR) are required equipment for telecommunications and networking companies. Proper use of an OTDR can facilitate quick repairs to fiber optic cabling and lead to markedly less network downtime.

The primary use of an OTDR is to locate faults such as breaks, bends or faulty splices in fiber optic cabling. They are also used to estimate the length of a fiber as well as measure its level of attenuation. OTDRs work by injecting multiple optical pulses into the fiber cable. These pulses travel to the end of the cable and are then reflected back to the entry or injection point. Measurements are then taken of the reflected light pulses. These measurements are then examined for deviations or changes in the reflected light wave compared to the originally injected light wave. Measurable aberrations in the reflected wave allow a properly trained technician to locate the exact location of light loss. Once the location of a fault is known, repairs can quickly be be made to the cable.

Communication networks of all types depend more and more heavily on fiber optic cabling to transmit data due to its greatly increased data transmission capacity compared to copper wire. Being able to quickly find the exact location of problem area in fiber cabling is extremely important and can save a company countless hours of downtime, not to mention the huge cost savings from a labor and lost revenue standpoint. For that reason optical time domain reflectometers are a necessity in the telecommunications and networking industries.

Some of the most prominent manufacturers of OTDRs are Noyes, Fluke, NetTest, Tektronix and Agilent.

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