A cable is only as good as the connector on either end of it. This technical adage holds especially true for fibre optic cables, which are used increasingly for high volume transport of audio, video and data in many applications. Broadcasting in particular is taking the optical route for large-scale studio complexes and outside broadcasts, the latter often involving RF-over-fibre to support radio mics, IEMs and wireless cameras.
UK distributor and enclosure/component manufacturer Canford has responded to this changing situation by setting up its own in-house fibre termination service. This is able to produce cables to specific lengths for broadcast projects with connectors most commonly used in, or best suited to, TV and radio production.
Canford was already known for the wide range of cables it supplies, including some designed by chief executive and founder Iain Elliott. This latest departure, explains head of design John Driver, who leads the fibre termination project, is a reaction to the developing cabling needs of the broadcast market are.
"For a long time Canford has been recognising the need to terminate fibre optical cables," he says. "It's the way the industry is moving and the big push is the shift towards Ultra High Definition [UHD] production and transmission. The amount of data that has to be moved from the camera and onwards is very high. The capability of copper to do that is not so great, so we decided it was the time to invest."
Driver (pictured) says he looked at the connectors being used by Canford customers and what was being done with cable in the market. He also discussed the move with representatives of Senko, a leading supplier of cable connectors and ancillary components, including ceramic/zirconia ferrules, which some experts see as the most important part of a fibre connector or patch cord. "Senko supplies to other manufacturers and was very helpful in guiding us in what we needed to do and how," Driver comments.
Initially Driver, his Canford team and Senko looked at basic termination products, such as LC and SC fibre patch leads, before examining specific broadcast connectors. "LEMO SMPTE and Neutrik opticalCON are what are being adopted by broadcasters and those are what we are putting on the fibre cables," Driver says.
Previously Canford had bought in ready-terminated optical fibre cabling with LEMO or Neutrik connections. The drawback with this, Driver explains, was how long the process took. "We were very aware of the lead times," he comments. "It could take six to eight weeks and broadcasters being broadcasters, they want something fairly quickly once they order it. Which is another reason why we decided we needed to terminate cables in-house."
Canford has built a dedicated fibre termination facility within its headquarters at Washington, Tyne-and-Wear, in the northeast of England. The work is carried out in a clean area, to which access is restricted. Food and drink is not allowed in and Driver says that while the personnel do not have to don special suits they are encouraged to wear dark clothing to show up any stray fibre shards, which are nine micron wide.
A total of £60,000 has been invested in establishing the facility. Driver explains that the main cost was the equipment rather than the space itself: "We've bought the full interferometry system, which looks at the profile of the end of the fibre connector [using electromagnetic waves to extract precise measurements]. The industry standards work in nanometers and we have to meet those standards so we can be sure that one connector will mate exactly with another."
The staff terminating the cables were already working at Canford and volunteered to work in the new department. Driver adds that specific training has been carried out with LEMO, with Neutrik to follow in June. The fibre cable itself is being supplied right now by Furukama and Draka.
In terms of specific audio connectivity, Driver says Canford is looking at the requirements of console manufacturers such as DiGiCo, which produce large desks for big broadcast and live events: "There are options for fibre there, with all digital transmission to and from stage boxes. We've started with LEMO and Neutrik but there's also the possibility of providing HMA connectors, which would require further training, and even MPO units, which contain 12 fibres as opposed to two or four, and are 10mm across."
Canford's fibre termination operation has been running since November last year and, according to Driver, has already outstripped expectations, with much of the output being exported. Because of this the company is looking at bringing in more equipment and for new volunteers to terminate cables.
On the distribution side of its business Canford announced during April that it has signed an exclusive deal with TC Electronic. The company is now sole UK distributor for the MUSIC Group subsidiary's range of audio meters, monitor controllers, audio converters, processors and loudness management systems. This includes the new Clarity M desktop audio meter intended for music production and sound mixing.