13

What equipment, tools and supplies do I need, in order to build and maintain a single fiber optic network connection between two buildings that are about 600 ft apart, separated by forest?

The way I am thinking about this problem is, instead of connecting an ethernet cable between two ethernet switches, I need to make a similar connection with a fiber optic cable. I'd like for it to be reliable for years. But I really don't know how to do it at all.

EDIT/UPDATE: thanks very much for all of the excellent replies. In just one day there's a huge wealth of information I was unable to find previously. I have incorporated some edits to clarify things that were unclear.

EDIT/UPDATE 2: In the interest of focus, I moved my question to the top. There are several clarifying questions below, which are not required to answer the main question, but give insight into my process so far and may be helpful components of the overall answer.

Note, I'm also considering alternate solutions -- see the below section on alternate solutions. I'm asking about fiber and other possibilities, so I can gather sufficient information to compare them to the other options-- including the pair of Ubiquiti Nanobeam 2.4G dishes that I'm running right now.

Some optional clarifying questions that have come up in my mind:

  1. Do I need a media converter on each side, or is there another option for connecting the cable on each side?
  2. Does it make sense to get a fiber optic cable of the correct length with connectors pre-installed?
  3. Alternately, could I buy cable and the tools and connectors, and install the connectors myself? If so, what tools and supplies would I need to do this?
  4. My initial research pointed me towards OM3, is this a good choice for my scenario? (more details below)
  5. I'm considering either getting some armored cable and running it across the forest floor, or getting some conduit, perhaps metal conduit or liquidtite, and then I probably don't need armored cable. Any recommendations on this topic? (more details below)
  6. It would be great to be able to patch a section of damaged cable if needed. Is this a practical thing to learn to do? What tools would I need? Is single-mode cable easier to patch?
  7. Where can I purchase the different tools, cable, connectors, media converters, etc.?

A few more details about my specific project:

This is for residential use, including working from home. The two buildings are actually a well pump house and my main house. The ISP service comes into the pump house - this is a small rural ISP - and I need to bring the service to my residence, which is a long way from the road and utility pole. The ISP charges $12.50/foot for trenching and fiber installation past 100 feet, so they installed their ONT just inside the property and I'm taking care of the remaining distance. I'm outside Seattle, so we don't get a lot of intense heat, but there's a lot of moisture for much of the year.

My ISP offers Gigabit speeds so it would be nice to install something faster than that, 10GB seems like a good way to be future proof. Although there are valid arguments against this so-called future proofing since 1GB is already way more than needed for almost anyone.

In the short-term, I'll be laying this down on the forest floor. Thus, it won't be a straight run, I'll need to go around trees and bushes, and sometimes pass it through thick brush.

(Several people have advised that laying cable down on the forest floor is a terrible idea, so I am reconsidering this. Although it is notable that a CAT6 cable has been laying on the forest floor here connecting a different building, and it still works after about 2 years; it appeared undamaged when I rerouted it a few months ago.)

Maybe in a year or two I'll be able to dig a shallow trench and bury conduit, but that's a much bigger project, and I need an easier short-term solution for now. I'll probably be using a flexible conduit to protect it -- recommendations welcome. Or maybe direct burial cable will be sufficiently strong and easier than dealing with conduit. Deer could step on it, but there isn't anything bigger than that around here. I'll probably route 2 cables on different paths so I have a backup / redundancy.

On another post I saw a recommendation for some single mode cable with steel wire protecting it, but it seemed that it didn't really bend in all 4 directions very well, which would be troublesome.

Someone suggested routing in existing conduit. The well pump has its own separate electrical service. For the home, the power company has an underground conduit that goes directly from the utility pole along the 700 foot driveway, not directly to the house but first to a utility owned box that remedies the voltage drop (at least I assume that's what it does.) I would not consider attempting to route anything in this existing conduit. There is also an old DSL line, a 3/8" cable in a 1/2" thin metal conduit. Maybe it's 7/16" cable, it's really tight in there. I am certain it would be impractical to attempt anything with this. There are no other conduits, unless you count the water line.

If I do bury conduit, on the one hand it might be easier to just go along the gravel driveway. However the driveway is narrow enough that we wouldn't be able to drive on it while the trenching is underway, which could be a considerable inconvenience. There just aren't easy answers here.

Alternate solutions:

  • I have a wifi bridge working now -- that is, a pair of Ubiquiti 2.4G Nanobeam dishes. There is a risk of trees blocking the signal intermittently, especially in bad weather. I'm also unsure how it will perform in a rainstorm or the rare snowstorm. I will keep it as a backup. Cutting trees is not an option. No trees will be cut to create a better line of sight for wireless.
  • Cat6a cable signal degrades after 300 feet or so. I have tested it at 500ft in a nearby location: it works sometimes, but is comparatively slow (60Mbps) and some networking hardware refuses to connect with it at all. (Google Nest router in particular would not make any connection.)
  • Two or more Cat6a cables with PoE extender(s) in the middle would also be an option, and it's probably what I'll do if I can't figure out the fiber option. But the need for moisture protection makes this option tricky to execute. I'd like to be able to compare this option vs fiber, so that's why I'm asking about how the fiber option could be done.

Notable recommendations from answers:

  • Someone recommended getting a switch with an SFP interface, rather than buying media converters.
  • Someone asserted that the info about OM3 being cheaper or better is out of date, and that single mode is the way to go now.
  • Someone suggested hanging the cable from trees in an aerial way, will consider!
  • Someone suggested coax rather than fiber, so I'm adding to the list of possibilities that I need to research more.

Thanks for advice!

18
  • 2
    Any cable laid bare on the ground has a short lifetime. At least with electric cable you can have a fried dinner. Does the house and well house share the same power line?
    – crip659
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 23:32
  • 4
    How are power and water connected between the pump and main house? Explore that, and perhaps running a new conduit alongside those pipes will be easiest, IE rather than forge your own path beneath the forest floor, just follow the one already in use with a new conduit.
    – jay613
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 1:49
  • 6
    You will not want to try to splice or terminate a single-mode fiber in the field, by hand, without prior training. I'm not sure if it's feasible at all, but it's definitely not easy. Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 4:57
  • 4
    Install conduit with lead lines, and always use your last lead line to pull at least two more leadlines.
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 16:01
  • 4
    @DKNguyen "pull cords" and "draw wires" are other names for leadlines. (Adding for completeness)
    – Criggie
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 19:08

10 Answers 10

3

Building a fiber network, especially a single segment, is not the mysterious and complex art that we all thought it to be.

Electronics

SFP modules are a great way to convert between the optical and electrical domains. There are many wavelengths offered -- it really doesn't matter which wavelength you pick; just choose the same for both ends. Bi-directional ("bi-di") modules use two wavelengths at the same time; the advantage is they use a single strand but you have to match them correctly (eg TX/RX 1490/1310 on one end; TX/RX 1310/1490 on the other end). Others use a single wavelength transmitting on one strand and receiving on a separate strand (eg 1310 nm TX on one strand and 1310 nm RX on another). Of course you have to arrange it so that TX at one end connects to the opposite end's RX.

Conduit

Vibratory plowing is an amazing way of dropping conduit into the ground on the cheap. Check with your ISP to see whether they, or a contractor they know, can help you with this. Somebody who has a plow may also have spools of HDPE conduit, either microduct (12.7 mm, 18 mm, or other outside diameter) or traditional (3/4", 1.25", etc). These come in spools of 5000-8000 feet. I've plowed up to 200 feet continuous in good soil, but in rocky soil results are often not so good.

Pre-terminated

Others have mentioned the fact that custom and off-the-shelf pre-terminated cable assemblies are available. FS.com is one source; discount-low-voltage.com is another. Ubiquiti has a few entries here as well (FC-SM-100, FC-SM-200, etc). You can even buy couplers to plug multiple segments of cable together. (Perhaps it would make sense to buy multiple short cables rather than one full-length so that if/when a section is damaged by wildlife it can be replaced without replacing the entire length.)

DIY splicing

Fusion splicing single-mode 250 um fiber has really become quite easy, and basic splicing machines are not impossibly expensive as they once were.

If you want to build your own cable and be equipped for independently making repairs, shop eBay or elsewhere for a splicer. I've used both the Fitel Ninja and the Inno M7. I own one of the latter and prefer it over the Ninja, primarily because it came with "universal" fiber holders that allow me to work with both 250 um and 900 um fiber. Splicers in this class can be had used for under US$1500. Choose one that includes a cleaver and the only other tool you'll really need is a stripper, though a ringer and slitter are really handy for opening the cable jacket and the loose tube containing the fiber without damaging the fibers. (They're not as fragile as you'd expect, by the way.) You'll also need some splice sleeves, which are just inexpensive heat shrink tube with a piece of stainless steel wire inside.

It's possible your small rural ISP is already equipped for splicing fiber or desires to become so -- have you asked whether they would help you terminate cable for a fee?

Raw cable and other bits and pieces can also be had from the vendors who sell to small ISPs, like Baltic Networks, ISP Supplies, and others (they're also a great place to get Ubiquiti and Mikrotik parts).

The simplest way to terminate bulk cable is to use pigtails, either sold as such with a connector on one end and bare fiber on the other, or buy a patch cord and cut it in half. I've done both. It's cleanest with 900 um pigtails; the 2 mm and 3 mm patch cords have 900 um fiber inside wrapped in aramid or other yarn for strength. The yarn gets in the way, though it can be cut back.

If your splices will be exclusively indoors then simple splice trays from FS.com work great. For outdoors a small splice case like the PLP Coyote DTC4 or DTC6, or the Commscope OFDC-A4, are nice units that you should be able to find around US$60-80. (I have both in my little network.)

There's a dizzying spectrum of fiber types available even within the category of single mode. Bend insensitive is nice for a novice but not essential, and just about all the other possibilities won't make a difference for a distance as short as yours so don't sweat them. Armored gives a measure of protection against gnawing and stomping wildlife, but if you'll string it aerially or put it in conduit, even above ground, then armor is probably just extra hassle.

22

Your research is polluted by misinformation that's been circulating since the days when it wasn't misinformation. Single mode fiber is what you want - it actually costs less than OM3 or OM4 multimode, and the electronics to connect to it have come way down in price from when the trope you've been fed was true. More than 10 years ago it was already not true. So much so that the cheaper fiber more than offsets the slight premium for the interface electronics. And it can go as fast as the electronics allow, even with electronics that haven't been invented yet, unlike multimode.

Don't buy media converters - you'll pay too much. A small switch (or one as big as you need for your other devices) with a fiber interface port is almost always cheaper than a two-port switch, one of which is a fiber interface port, sold as a "media converter."

If you buy fiberglass reinforced drop cable it MIGHT make it a while before being broken by animals, trees or people if run along the ground, but I really can't recommend doing that. Use a chainsaw on the trees and make a reliable path for wireless point-to-point radios as suggested here: https://diy.stackexchange.com/a/134077/18078, until you can bury fiber. A note: Serious wireless point-to-point radios exist. You should use a pair. With an appropriate clear path you can do more than a gigabit over such a link, (but not 10 Gig at present.) Faster does cost more money than "pretty fast, pretty cheap" versions which are currently 300-600 Megabits.

Or, hang fiber from trees or actual poles, using drop fiber. See here: https://diy.stackexchange.com/a/117312/18078 for info on drop fiber. That will get it above most animal damage, and if you cast a suspicious glance around for trees likely to fall on it and remove them, can last for years. Burial is more damage resistant, though.

2
  • Thanks a lot for all of these suggestions, these are great! I edited the original question to incorporate several of these, and am seriously considering several of these as viable solutions. Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 19:31
  • 1
    It is common for fiber installers to have a trencher that direct-buries a filled conduit. I don't know what your forest looks like but I work for a company that does this on a daily basis; we would be able to do this for you (for cost+labor, which is minimal). Your ISP may do the same and save you the trouble. We also use fiber that you can literally drive a truck over, although we still pull it across poles. In all other aspects, this is your answer. Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 12:59
9

Fiber - or anything other than some pretty good conduit - e.g., PVC Schedule 80 or rigid metal conduit - is not likely to last long with all the critters around. So that means one of:

  • Good conduit on the ground - not ideal but should work.
  • Good conduit a little below the ground (6" rigid metal, 18" PVC)
  • Direct burial cable 24" below the ground - I really don't like this option here

Because this is low voltage cable (or technically no voltage at all for fiber) and not 120V/above, you don't have to follow the usual rules. But while the rules aren't so relevant in terms of protecting people from wires, they are still relevant in terms of protecting wires from critters.

The WiFi alternative may be a worthwhile long-term choice here. Depending on where the trees are, you might even be able to rig up a solar/battery repeater in the middle.

I wouldn't worry about going faster than 1 Gig. If you had two houses and wanted to share huge files between them, maybe. But this connection here is just to provide internet access. 1 Gig. is huge overkill for most people - kind of like putting in 60A to charge a commuter EV. Unless you're throwing a party for 50 people and each of those people is staring at their own device instead of enjoying the party, you just don't need that much bandwidth. With WiFi you won't get anywhere near 1 Gig. over that distance, but you should be able to get a usable connection. Once you put in conduit, you can always upgrade the connection later if your ISP ever offers more than 1 Gig.

4
  • 7
    I'd agree with the not going faster than one Gig, but when OP buries this, it should be somewhat future proofed. But I'd future proof with conduit and a pull string, rather than by gambling that whatever giant bundle of fibre I put in the ground will be sufficient.
    – lupe
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 7:54
  • 5
    Future proofing is worthwhile investing in, even if you can't see it ever being the case. With current internet speeds I could have sent the entire contents of my first hard drive several times over in the time its taken for me to write this comment - back then I never would have predicted things would get this data heavy. Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 8:49
  • 3
    Over a distance of 600 feet the question which mechanical protection offers best value for the money becomes interesting. I mean, even buying 600 ft of simple PVC sewage pipes appears to cost hundreds of dollars, similar for steel pipes. Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 11:37
  • 1
    I'd argue that's changing - most modern systems are doing multigig, and 10 gig internet is coming onstream, and if you're not picky prices are dropping. The network I'm building/acquiring parts for will be 10 gig capable - even if I'm doubtful I can use all of it on a single client, simply cause availability of 10 gig parts was easier at the time. Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 5:49
8

It is amazing how similar your situation is to one I just encountered earlier this year, except my property is in the south-east, I had internet to a barn rather than the pump house and it was a 630ft run if I went directly through the forest.

After spending entirely too much time researching products and estimating costs, I found my local ISP was willing and able to run a fiber from my barn to the house along the driveway for ~1.10 per foot. This included the direct burial rated fiber, the terminations and burying the fiber ~14 inches. I supplied my own media converters. They used a machine that was able to bury the cable without trenching so it only took about two hours and my driveway was never blocked. While this was much cheaper than anything I was looking at doing myself, I was also able to get a $300 credit in exchange for signing a 3 year agreement.

Many ISPs contract out the actual install work. If your local ISP isn't as willing to work with you, perhaps they would be willing to let you know which contractors they use so you might get a quote from them directly.

1
  • That's a great suggestion! My particular local ISP charges $12.50 a foot though :-/ at least that's their price to bring a fiber cable from the utility pole all the way to the house, so I can't expect that the price would be very different for burying my own fiber cable. That's awesome that your ISP has such a great affordable service. Commented Sep 7, 2023 at 2:48
6

Have you considered running coax instead?

I have a similar setup here in Montana — the internet is several hundred feet away up the side of a mountain. The vegetation is too dense for a good wireless connection (and it's hard to make a good wireless connection anyway) but the run is much too far for Cat6e.

Instead I ran direct burial RG11 coax https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01LWJXQII/ and used Ethernet over Coax adapters https://www.amazon.com/Nexuslink-Performance-Streaming-Locations-GCA-2000-KIT/dp/B09SKSKQR3

The cable is pretty tough, we have the full range of critters from Grizzly on down and nothing has bothered it to date, though I hope to bury it someday. It is also easy to cut to length, attach your own terminators, etc. And the system requires very little power and can operate directly from 12v DC which is handy as we only have solar power available.

4
  • 3
    What kind of speeds do you get over your coax connection?
    – maples
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 14:24
  • 1
    I've always thought this stuff was more for when you already have some coax cable installed and want to reuse it. The cost of running new coax would be similar to running any other cable, no?
    – Criggie
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 19:13
  • Really appreciate this real-world-experience recommendation! I had not considered coax but I will look into it now. Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 19:32
  • Why on earth would you suggest this? Coax provides lower bandwidth, the cable is more expensive, the electronics is more expensive, and has exactly zero benefit.
    – vidarlo
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 9:31
5

if you have power cables buried in conduit then fibre in the same conduit. If you have them on poles the fibre on the same poles.

If you can get unobstructed line of sight then wireless, you might need to build towers both ends.

Buy fiber cables pre-made. Buy the fiber network equipment from an expert unless you are one.

5

If the pump house is powered from the residence you are trying to connect internet to (or vice versa) then you might be able to use powerline ethernet which uses the existing power line and puts an additional signal on it to carry data.

A quick search gives me a few products that claim 600ft range and gigabit speeds.

7
  • 3
    Powerline is NEVER the answer.
    – MikeB
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 12:30
  • 4
    @MikeB, bald assertions like that aren't useful, here or anywhere. Without some reasoning or evidence it's just noise.
    – isherwood
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 12:56
  • 2
    @MikeB this is the kind of statement that is ALWAYS false. One single case where this is the answer and you are wrong. The setup at my neighbor's for instance.
    – WoJ
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 19:08
  • 2
    @MikeB powerline falls into the "last resort" category. It can be slow, unreliable, intermittent, and might never connect (so make sure its returnable!) and sometimes it just works, and there's no good way to predict how good or bad it will be.
    – Criggie
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 19:11
  • 1
    @MikeB: I use power line adapters to bring network out to my garage for my birdhouse cameras, it works just fine. Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 2:28
3

Fiber cable

As @Ecnerwall already said: Use singlemode cable. I personally prefer LC connectors. Fibre cable itself is quite cheap, and in case of single mode, good for up to 10KM. So get some reserve length.

Getting the fiber: The keyword you need is "200m single mode patch cable LC". Certain shops make custom cables. At 200m that should be viable.

Install

Tools: You won't need any tools on an pre-made fiber patch cable. I don't understand the part of four directions bending: The fiber cables I used are flexible and resistant. They are extremely resistant to tearing, but are quite vulnerable to sharp bends. One kink and the cable is gone. I recommend an trench and conduit, should you absolutely don't want that now, at least get armored cable. An friend of mine lost an awful amount of installs to rodents chewing on his fibre cables. Non metallic fiber should be ok in an conduit together with power.

Modules

You can also save some budget if you use 1.25GB SFP modules now. At the time of writing they cost ~20€/module at my location. An 10GB SFP+ module costs about 150€. So get two SFP+ modules when you upgrade, not now. But use an SFP+ switch or router. SFP modules aren't always compatible with every switch or router. From personal experience: Mikrotik switches and Unifi SFP modules are compatible.

3
  • 3
    Posting this as acomment: FS.com (no affilation) makes an custom 600ft simplex patch cable for about $34. Armored cable is at $225 now
    – Martin
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 12:53
  • 3
    A single strand is always a bad idea. When it fails, you're just down. What costs is digging the hole, not what you put in it, and single-mode glass is cheap. Today price for Corning 12F is ~50c/foot. Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 15:23
  • Thanks so much for this really useful advice and information! Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 19:34
2

If you want a cheap solution that's better than just laying it on the floor, you might consider a shallow trench with HDPE / poly water pipe as conduit. Even the thin wall 1/2 inch drip irrigation tubing would be better than nothing, and it comes in continuous long lengths.

Conduit is far better future proofing than any choice of fiber etc would be.

Also worth looking at other Ubiquti point-to-point. The lower frequency you can use, the better it will penetrate trees etc.

1

Depending on budget, outdoor-rated armored fiber could be a good option: https://falcontech.com/collections/os2-pre-terminated-fiber-optic-cable/jacket_armored

Pre-terminated fiber like that is more expensive, but for only a couple of fiber runs, it's probably not worth buying the tools for DIY termination.

Another option if you can find a route with few roots would be to use a spade like this to put non-armored fiber just below the dirt: https://www.wiltonthinlinetrenchingspades.com/store/product/2

I don't have experience with either of these products, but I have worked with fiber some before. We've always run it in conduit but have discussed options like this for future projects.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.