Monday, December 16, 2019

Cost Cutting Tools For The Fiber Techs

Whether you're hiring new technicians or cleaning out your own tool bag, so many advancements in fiber tools have come down the pike that you shouldn't put another requisition in without reading this blog. You might need to purchase 5 tools today that were replaced by a single tool. While I will agree that having more than one tool to do the same job in your bag is a good idea, you might find a new favorite with one of these. Most of these low-cost options are designed to serve the installers that are in the highest demand today--the fiber techs.

EXFO Optical Explorer

Do you wish your drop fiber technicians had more testing capability in their hands, but you don't want to spend the money on an OTDR, nor the time to train them? You now have an answer--the Optical Multimeter! EXFO released the Optical Explorer this year, and it combines all the functions a technician would need to diagnose issues intelligently at the edge of the network. And they can do it all for a fraction of the cost of buying separate devices.

The Optical Explorer can measure Insertion Loss (IL), Optical Return Loss (ORL) and span length in 3-5 seconds for up to 40km. That's all as a single sided test! Two additional test parameters can give you distance to a point of failure on the network, and also provide a map of all events along the span. It provides the fault-finding capabilities of an OTDR with a VFL, light source and power meter.

While the Optical Explorer does not export test results in the form of a .sor or other OTDR file format, it provides technicians with a tool that troubleshoots and allows them to act quickly when there are issues. You can also use the Multimeter to test reels of cable in your inventory, and you wouldn't need to pull a valuable OTDR from the field to do it. As the edge becomes more complex with 5G, new fiber to the home builds, and other private network use cases, an Optical Multimeter makes a lot of sense to have in your toolkit. Click here to view the options and configurations of the Optical Explorer on our website.

EasySplicer MK2

While the cost of equipping a fiber technician with a fusion splicer has come down dramatically, it
has never been this low. The EasySplicer MK2 is the perfect solution for Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber MDU installer deployments. Let's face it, you want to reach as many subscribers as you can in one day, month and year. The sheer number of technicians you're deploying in the field is on the rise, and you want to connect as many customers as you can in a single day.

For under $2000, you can now put this simple fixed V-Groove machine in their hands to splice fiber drops. If you had a budget for $10,000 on splicing equipment, that's roughly a 5:1 ratio in the number of EasySplicers you can buy versus a standard Core Alignment splicer. Click here to see the EasySplicer MK2 product page on our website.

Granted, the Core Alignment splicers are still going to produce the speed and results required for the main distribution network, so the EasySplicer shouldn't be the option for your guys hanging out in the splice trailers all day. Concerned about the quality of splices you'll get from the EasySplicer? I used the machine for a full year, and never saw an estimated splice loss of more than 0.03dB, with the majority at 0.01dB.

The EasySplicer MK2 comes in a field-ready kit with fiber holders, cleaver and stripper in a durable plastic case. Additional accessories and splice-on connectors are available as well. The case can easily slip into many tool backpacks on the market, which would help contain your Optical Multimeter, hand tools, drill and fiber cleaning supplies as well. Check out the Klein Tradesman Pro(TM) Backpacks in this blog to help start your full installer kit with the EasySplicer MK2.

Jonard Slit and Ring Fiber Tools

In 2019, Jonard launched their full line of Fiber Slit and Ring tools that re-wrote the book on loose
tube fiber access. With the plethora of buffer tube, central tube and ribbon tube sizes on the market, most cable manufacturers recommend purchasing an array of expensive aluminum tools and dies for the specific sizes you are using. Other low-cost midspan fiber tools have been around for years, but none of them have the range of the Jonard tools. The other low-cost midspan tools also do not have a built-in ring-cut function.

The Jonard Slit and Ring tools cover a range from 1.2mm up to 12mm in 4 different models, priced each at $160 or less. Considering each single-sized insert for the popular Raucut tool is around $100 each, the Jonard tools make cost and buffer tube cutting simple. Click here to see the full range of Jonard fiber tools on our website.

The Zip InnerDuct Slitter (ZIDS)

I carried a Makita Compact Cordless router with me to customers and trade shows this year. Many people would ask, "why does an underground construction guy need a cordless router?" Then I would show them what it does with the Zip InnerDuct Slitter, or ZIDS tool. Faster and safer than any "can
opener/red box" tool, the ZIDS can ring cut and longitudinally slit HDPE with a router. If you pick a variable speed router or cordless drill, you can even use the ZIDS to cut through PVC. Because PVC is more brittle, you need a lower speed to keep the duct from shattering. If you use a cordless drill, you must keep pressure on the tool against the inside wall of the duct since there is no depth control.

Compared to other powered duct slitters on the market, the ZIDS costs less, works faster, and it's safer for your employees and cables. Click here to see the ZIDS and our preferred Makita Cordless Router that will make your crews happy in 2020.

Backpacks for the Fiber Installer

Let's face it, fiber installers need more stuff to do their job effectively than they did when they were dropping with coax or twisted pair. Fusion splicers, optical test, cleaning supplies and cable access tools are just a few pieces of gear that they didn't need before. Plus they still need their drills, bell hangers, can wrench, nines, fishing tools and more.

Rather than equip them with multiple totes, dufflebags, or messenger style bags, you could get a comfortable, ergonomic backpack. The Klein Tradesman Pro(TM) series backpacks come in several sizes with well organized compartments and plenty of space for the compact fiber gear mentioned in this blog. Plus backpacks are well-balanced, and they keep both technicians' hands free in the event they trip on the jobsite. They are a safer, more convenient option.

Estex Manufacturing also offers an external frame backpack for those jobs off the beaten path. While that option is more for the lineman, it could come in handy for fiber technicians working in remote areas.

Looking to build a fiber technician toolkit? Contact your Comstar sales rep today to discuss the options with us. A lot of traditional fiber kits contain outdated tools that cost more money, and most likely won't be used by your team. Using the foundation of the products in this blog, we can create kits that are right-sized to support the edge deployments you'll be tackling in the coming year.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Comstar Supply Appoints Tom Ortolano as Vice President, Business Development and Strategy

Comstar Supply, Inc., a national distributor of telecommunications network products and services, today announced the appointment of Tom Ortolano as Vice President of Business Development and Strategy. Ortolano will lead Comstar in growing its national sales accounts and help strengthen the company’s strategic vision.

“Tom has the strong business and sales leadership experience to help lead Comstar’s next stage of growth,” said Chad Punchard, President of Comstar Supply. “We’ve worked with and gotten to know Tom over the past 20 years of his career and feel his addition to our sales management team will be crucial as we forge ahead into new products and markets.”
Punchard also commented that an added bonus to appointing Ortolano to this position is his clear understanding of the value of a distribution partner and Comstar’s unwavering commitment to its customers by playing a valued role in their supply chain.

Ortolano joins Comstar Supply after serving two years at Comtran, most recently as Executive Vice President of Sales. Previously, he served more than 17 years at Condux International in various sales roles, as well as similar positions at Graybar Electric and TVC/Wesco.

“I got to know Chad and the entire Comstar family very well over the last 20 years,” added Ortolano. “I’m extremely excited to lend my unique perspective and experience in telecom and distribution to the team.”

About Comstar Supply
Comstar Supply, Inc., was founded in 1994 with the goal of providing the communications industry with the necessary materials and tools to successfully complete projects in a timely and cost-effective manner. Through its Collegeville, PA, and Raleigh, NC, facilities, the company serves a diverse customer base that includes telephone and electric utilities, CATV companies, CLEC local/long haul fiber-optic companies providing combined internet, telephone, and CATV services. Further information about the company can be found at

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019


As I hope many of you know, 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of Comstar Supply. It’s quite the journey to think back to the single-wide trailer my dad first occupied and called himself Comstar Supply. With 3 product lines and a pocketful of contacts my dad started a business that has grown into 2 locations and nearly 50 full-time employees.

You’ll be able to read the full story about the inception of Comstar shortly, but in the meantime, we’ll celebrate not only 25 years, but the life and memory of my father, with the second Quinquennial Earl S. Punchard Golf in late September. While the golf tournament honors his name, all profits generated by the tournament are donated directly to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

Our first tournament in 2014 raised more than $100,000 making it the largest, non-affiliated CHOP fundraising event in its history. With the support of vendors, suppliers, and customers, the goal is to raise $250,000 this year. So, if you would like to contribute and help us reach our goal, simply visit to make a donation.

Raleigh, NC warehouse
In addition to these two milestones in 2019, there have been a number of other exciting things happening at Comstar this year. We’ve expanded our operations in North Carolina, adding headcount to our Raleigh location to support new customer demand in that area. We’ve added new sales and technical resources in Philadelphia dedicated to find the best solutions for our customers network construction challenges. And we’ve completed an expansion project at our headquarters location to nearly double our office space.

Beyond that we feel the telecom industry has rebounded slightly this year as we move towards 5G and beyond. What’s looming is the last-mile fight between pole owners and incumbents on one side vs. network operations and upstart carriers looking to build network. With regulation and labor shortages continuing to be an issue, we remain committed to introducing new technologies and tools that can help overcome new challenges our customers are facing. So, an exciting couple of months ahead for sure as we celebrate Comstar's 25th anniversary.

As always, a sincere thank you to our customers, suppliers, manufacturers and partners - and of course the employees of Comstar. I look forward to a strong finish to the year together!

Chad Punchard
President, Comstar Supply

August 2019 Product Updates

There are three products we’re highlighting in our most recent email newsletter. 

EXFO Optical Xplorer

The world’s first Optical Multimeter is here, and it’s going to solve many of today’s problems with network deployment.

Putting greater visibility in the hands of techs on the front lines without breaking the bank is the goal of the Xplorer. Not only is it a device that can troubleshoot recently deployed networks and give a “go-no-go” diagnosis, it also serves as an excellent tool for qualifying reels of fiber in your inventory. The Optical Xplorer is not an OTDR, yet it is so much more than a power meter.

EasySplicer MK2

The EasySplicer MK2 offers the most robust and affordable solution for your service drop technicians in the field. Its compact size will easily fit in tool bags and backpacks with all the essential tools for fiber installation. Pair the EasySplicer MK2 with the new OX-1 Optical Multimeter from EXFO for a complete, simple splice and test solution for under $6000. Empower your technicians to do the work you always wanted them to do, at the price you always wanted to pay.

Commscope OFDC

Densification and building fiber rich networks to enhance mobility is placing high demand on connectivity at the edge of the network. The OFDC enclosure from Commscope addresses some key issues with adding multiple devices at the edge.

Discreet egress ports for drop fibers are sealed using Commscope’s patented gel seal technology, allowing technicians to easily install and test new connections to the network without disturbing the main distribution cable.

And instead of landing a heavy NEMA rated aluminum or steel enclosure on a pole, the OFDC can provide fast deployments with a fraction of the cost. Standard connector types are utilized inside the enclosure, making it easy to obtain drop cables at any custom lengths in short order.

To learn more or see a sample of any product in the Comstar Supply portfolio, please contact your Comstar Sales Representative today.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Take Flight With One Touch Make-Ready

Are you ready for new make-ready? The effective date for the 2019 make ready laws from the FCC including One Touch Make-Ready (OTMR) is May 20th.

On the same day in 1927, the “flying fool” Charles Lindbergh started his solo flight across the Atlantic from New York to Paris in 33 hours and 30 minutes. Today you can follow the path of the Spirit of St. Louis, but your flight time would be 7 hours and 20 minutes.

As OTMR is designed to shorten the daunting make-ready process, how much faster can broadband deployment become? How will it compare to the four-fold decrease in time it takes to travel now from New York to Paris?

Internet Service Providers face many obstacles in deploying broadband services including large capital costs, time to deployment, and numerous other sales and marketing challenges. One of the largest areas of concern is equal access to attach to poles and a reliable process in which to do so.

Twenty states in the US have certified with the FCC that they regulate rates, terms and conditions for pole attachments under the reverse preemption provision. For simplicity, we will call them Opt-Out states. The Opt-Out states formed their own make-ready laws over the years, many of them implementing some of the same rules as OTMR. Below is the list of states, and for those in the FCC regulated column, they will face new make ready laws on May 20th.

FCC Regulated
Opt-Out (Created their own Make-Ready Laws)
New Mexico
North Carolina
New Hampshire
North Dakota
New York
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota



West Virginia



A joint-use utility pole with power and communications.
In the FCC pole attachment regulated states, the major reform calls for simplified rules in attaching to the middle section of lines on a pole, known as the communications space. Before a company can attach its fiber optic cable to a pole, each owner of currently attached wires must be asked to assess and move their wires if necessary–a process called “make ready.” Poles are typically owned and operated by the local incumbent phone company – which coincidentally is typically one’s largest competitor in that market, which is why this type of regulation is necessary for equal and timely access to poles.

In general, the FCC’s order allows the construction of make ready and pole attachment quicker and more safe; allows wider deployment of broadband services to urban, suburban and rural residents, lowers barriers to entry; and ensures tighter deadlines for network contractors to receive feedback on poles and any necessary make ready work needed.

This new regulation has not come without concern. Many incumbents have their own internal process for make ready, claim to not resources available, or even only want their own trusted contractors working in this space. However, the FCC has pushed ahead with this set of rules. If the contractor that the new attacher would like to use is not on the pole owners’ approved contractor list, they are not allowed to use them. In order to prepare for the OTMR ruling, ILECs and CLECs should be in contact with their pole owner partners as soon as possible to have their contractors evaluated and approved.

As utilities are the primary pole owners, it is important for those companies to prepare for OTMR by adding the necessary resources to be able to process the new permit requests under the timeframes dictated by the 2019 OTMR order.

Another challenge on both sides will be the effectiveness to determine without argument the differences between "simple" and "complex" make-ready. Poles that do not require a lot of work to maintain compliance with the new attacher, and ones that do not require a new pole fall under simple make-ready rules. That is where the true benefits of OTMR come into effect for the new attacher. Otherwise, poles that require a lot of work and replacement fall under the complex make-ready. Some instances of complex make ready, such as the image above, are obvious. Some poles may not be identified as complex when they really are. The term "shot clock" is used to describe the amount of time each stage of the make-ready process takes to complete under the ruling, and simple make-ready has much shorter shot clocks.

In the end, it’s imperative that all companies work together so that the U.S. doesn’t fall behind in the arms race for broadband service. Any significant delays will not only factor into ubiquitous deployment of technology such as 5G wireless, but also hamper the implementation of fiber to the home and the Internet of Things still yet to come. Could OTMR be the catalyst for the next age of mobility like Charles Lindbergh’s flight was the catalyst for international travel? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Welcome to the Rollable Ribbon Party

Once dubbed "the most exciting thing to happen to black jacket cable," rollable or pliable ribbon is here to stay. Currently 5 optical fiber cable manufacturers are touting solutions in North America for the new ribbon designs, and I expect more are on the way.

As with any product offering, not all suppliers are created equal, and I would like to highlight some of the key differences in this blog. I also want to provide a comparison of splice closure capabilities as manufacturers quickly made tweaks to their existing product lines to handle the new fiber counts and designs.

First, let's take a look at what rollable ribbon is, and what the benefits are.

Instead of the traditional ribbon matrix adhesive, rollable ribbon fibers are intermittently bonded to allow the bundle of 12 fibers to flex 360 degrees. Not only does that allow a cabled assembly greater flexibility, but it also allows for more efficient utilization of the space inside the cable. This innovation has led to higher fiber counts, unique cable designs and smaller diameters.

More importantly, you can easily choose whether to splice 12 fibers in one "burn," or you can easily remove single fibers from a bundle for individual splicing. With traditional ribbon matrix, special tools were required to break out individual fibers to take special care not to disturb other fibers within the ribbon. Conversely, if you need to take a loose buffer tube and turn those fibers into a ribbon, special tool kits and adhesive are required to "ribbonize" them.

Splicing Considerations

In response to rollable ribbon bundles in the marketplace, the major fusion machine suppliers have updated their tooling to accommodate them. Adjustments were made to the jacket strippers to more effectively operate on rollable. Another important aspect to note are the coatings of each fiber in a rollable ribbon. Some designs use a 200um coating, which further helps reduce overall cable diameters. Fiber strippers for 200um as well as fiber holders are readily available. Issues may arise if you are splicing ribbons going from 250um to 200um. The alignment of all 12 fibers within the machines may be challenging, so it would be best to avoid this type of splice if possible.

Splice Closures

Based on the flexibility of the rollable ribbon, stated ribbon splice capacities of closures on the market are now generally underrated. This fiber design allows you to use shallow splice trays, which typically gives you 50% more tray space. Reduced diameters of the cable can keep everyone in tolerance with the maximum port diameter of current closure ports of 1.38." Just because you can now cram ten pounds of potatoes in a five pound bag, that only means that proper fiber management and record keeping are paramount.

From a fiber management perspective, I highly recommend ribbon breakout tubing as a means of transport to and from splice trays. You can select color coded tubing for easy identification, and they are more compact than standard transport tubes. If you leave a rollable ribbon strand unprotected, any slight buckle from moving a tray can cause individual fibers to bulge out of the bundle, leaving them exposed to snagging on other components of the closure.

Additionally for fiber management, braided sleeving wraps are ideal for express storage. They are rugged and flexible, which makes them craft friendly and compact in a space that will no doubt be filled with an abundance of splice trays. You can choose from a wide array of colors, fabrics and sizes of braided sleeving wrap, and that further helps with managing fiber groups and identification.

Not all closures are high fiber count, rollable ribbon friendly out of the box. I've compiled a list of closures on the market today that have been redesigned to work with these cables, or lend themselves well to best practices for rollable management.

High Fiber Count Ribbon to Closure Comparison 6912 5184 3456 1728 1152 864 Max Port Diameter in (mm)
Fujikura FSCO-BUW & FSCO-TN-HA (In Development) X X X X X X TBD
Sumitomo 5184F TN X X X X X 1.38 (35)
Corning (3M) 2178-XL X X X X X X 1.40 (35)
Commscope 600D XL X X X X 1.38 (35)
Preformed 9.5" x 28" Coyote High Density Dome X X X X 1.38 (35)
AFL LightGuard 350XL Sealed Dome Closure X X X 1.18 (30)
Hubbell 790 X X X 1.25 (32)

Entrance Facility

Similar to splice closures, entrance facilities have now adapted to accommodate rollable ribbon
designs. By utilizing existing trays and mass fusion technologies, you can generally use smaller cabinets for higher fiber counts if you are splicing mass. Proper fiber management is key, and utilizing breakout tubing and braided sleeving can help here as well.

Fiber Termination Panels

Rollable ribbon entered the market just as a wide selection of high port density, compact, cassette driven solutions were already hitting the road and making a significant impact in the data center market. Many of these designs are well-suited for high fiber count, rollable ribbon cables, but there are some additional concerns.

You have to look at these panels as if they are more of a distribution style platform than just a traditional in/out LGX 4RU solution. Port holes between chassis become essential for any fiber count that can't be distributed within a single enclosure. Cassettes must be easy to access with plenty of slack management for transport tubes behind them. The ability to install cassettes from the front or back of the enclosure makes a much more craft friendly design. Do not forget considerations for front-end fiber management. If the cassettes are staggered, individual fiber access is simplified. The ability to safely remove a cassette from the chassis for additional discreet port access should be another benefit to take advantage of, when available.

When the cost per RU is at stake, these high density panels already prove there worth. There are multiple designs out there, and we can help you evaluate samples to see which options work best for your needs and splicers' preferences.

Time to go MPO?

Splice on MPO/MTP connectors have been out for some time, and the major fusion machine suppliers have connectors and termination kits in their portfolios to accommodate rollable as well as traditional ribbon. Whether you want to splice on a connector or fanout, MPOs are a proven solution. These can be used for initial testing of installed fiber as well. The ability to identify, inspect and test MPO connected fibers has evolved to an efficient, effective and economical means of certification.

The Wrap Up

While the first applications for rollable ribbon were for hyperscale data centers and data center interconnect, it certainly doesn't end there. The benefits of larger, flexible cables are also being utilized by metro and residential service providers. Many contractors are already familiar with the product, and projects are kicking off nationwide with great success. Check out our Fiber Optic Cable Solutions Guide for a snapshot of each supplier's design and capabilities. If you would like to see a live demo of rollable ribbon splicing, fiber management or MPO connectorization, contact a Comstar Sales Representative today.