Six Simple Tips To Increase Your Network Capacity

Network expansion projects are often a massive undertaking, typically requiring the installation and testing of a vast and varied assortment of devices and cables. This makes expanding and upgrading your network a complex and costly endeavor — but it doesn’t always have to be. You can upgrade your network and gain substantial improvements with a few easy procedures that aren’t overly-complicated and time-consuming. To help you get started, we’ve compiled six simple tips to upgrade your network capacity.


Tip #1: Test Your Cable Infrastructure And Prove Performance

There are a wide range of tests available, and each one offers different insights into your network performance. Testing is extremely important because seeing a “Link” light on a one-gigabit router doesn’t necessarily mean the cable is successfully sending 1 gigabit per second (Gbit/s) of data.


A simple method to prove your network’s speed is the bit error rate test (BERT). In short, this test sends real data packets through a cable, from one end to the other, and checks for errors. A real-world cable test drive, you can perform BERT if the cable is too long, old or even damaged. Simply plug both ends of the cable into your tester and start the test — it couldn’t be easier. Cables that pass the test can handle your application without replacing anything, regardless of the state of the cable.


You’ll probably find that a lot of old cables — if kept in good condition, were properly installed and have shorter lengths — are usually good to go. An additional benefit is that BERT tests all outlets, connectors and patch panels too.


Different from specification testing, BERT tests the cable as it is installed for an application, helping you quickly find poorly performing cable runs for repair or replacement. It also lets you leave the good cables alone, saving you time and money.


Tip #2: Test Your Network Infrastructure To Find Problems

Tracking down the source of an issue can be a major challenge when your network features hundreds of miles of cable of various types, as well as a multitude of switches, routers and access points. A network assessment qualification can provide the answers, particularly when something goes wrong but the cables passed certification and the wireless access points (WAP) passed their test.


A network assessment qualification features an all-purpose qualification tester for copper, fiber and power over Ethernet (POE) for real-world applications. Available for under $3,000, this all-purpose qualifier will stop the finger pointing in the infrastructure and IT departments and isolate the problem in minutes with just one tester. It quickly pays for itself and dramatically saves you time.


Tip #3: Determine If You Can Add QSFPs To Improve Total Bandwidth

If you run a BERT test on your existing cables, you might find you have the capacity to install quad small form factor pluggable (QSFP) fiber optic networking transceivers. A QSFP is a standard small form factor pluggable (SFP) but with four wavelengths or channels of data running over a single fiber.


A traditional SFP, which features a single wavelength and single channel of data, is the pluggable transceiver that slides into a switch and converts the light-based signal back to an electrical signal. Four wavelengths or channels allow you to send four data streams. However, qualification testing is necessary to determine if this is possible on your network.


Miami University is currently using QSFPs, running 10 Gbit/sec BERT tests on each fiber, to prove each fiber supports 10 Gbit/s, confirming the existing cables will work with the QSFPs. The four channels of a QSFP ensure that all data remains in their respective lanes, and the university can use either 10 Gbits/s across four channels or 40 Gbits/s to quadruple the throughput of their network. This setup eliminates the need to dig trenches between buildings and lay new fiber! QSFPs aren’t always a low-cost option, but they are far more cost-effective than the work it takes to install new fiber optic cables.


Tip #4: Test Your POE Devices

POE conveniently powers WAPs via an Ethernet cable, allowing you to strategically place the WAP instead of tethering it to a power outlet. Most POE issues on suspected “bad cables” can be easily determined and resolved with a real POE test. A qualification tester can help you determine if POE was enabled on the port or if there is another underlying issue.


Switches commonly have POE settings, such as devices that require POE+ and POE++, which are higher POE wattages that don’t pulse. A tester will determine if the switch is properly set to output the correct voltage. Sometimes, a switch has POE enabled but when a real load is applied, nothing works. With a POE qualification tester, you can apply a load to the line to make sure the switch source is maintained when the load is applied.


Tip #5: Test Your Fiber

Fiber testing is tricky, and the process can often be intimidating when you’re talking to technicians who are experts on the subject. But instead of struggling to answer their high-level questions, tell them you’re running real-world qualification tests that tests your cables for your application and not cable certification tests, which require a complicated setup.


Qualification tests, or application tests, are powerful because if a cable passes the test, it proves the cable will handle the given application. With this information, you can determine if old, existing cables can handle today's new bandwidth requirements. You only need to replace the cables that don’t pass application testing. When your network features hundreds of miles of fiber and copper, this course of action can save you a lot of time and money.


Another industry secret is that over 90 percent of fiber problems are the result of dirty fiber-optic end faces. To determine if an end face is dirty, connect a microscope to the qualification tester to see a nice large view of the fiber end face — complete with live imaging and guidance for end face contamination with pass/fail results compliant to IEC standards.

 Simply capture this image in a report to prove you’ve tested and cleaned your fiber end face. It is best to clean fiber when testing, as it will resolve 90 percent of your issues.


Tip#6: Perform Active Tests and Network Discovery

When a cable passes its certification test but won’t connect to the network, it’s time for active network testing. Active network tests are different from cable tests, which require you to connect the tester to each end of the cable to check performance across the whole cable. Active network tests, on the other hand, require you to connect to a running network at a single location. When running the test, the qualification tester will use dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP), or it will have an IP address and become a device on the network.


Different ways to connect the qualification tester include connecting to a patch cable, copper switch port, fiber port or even via Wi-Fi. Once connected, you can perform a number of active network tests including:

  • Link status to see if a “keep alive” message is received and the protocol status is normal.
  • DHCP tests, which check if the DHCP server is assigning IP addresses.
  • Discovery to passively listen for devices or actively search for a specific device.
  • Duplicate IP address to see if a device was inadvertently assigned the wrong IP address
  • Ping, which checks and compares IP addresses and response rates in a table.
  • Traceroute to trace the path to a network destination, showing the number of gateways (hops) the data passes through and the delay for each hop.
  • Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP), a protocol developed by Cisco, that helps manage the network and provides the network’s status.
  • Link Layer Discovery Protocol (LLDP), another industry standard that provides network information.
  • Port discovery, which provides information about supported speeds, the types of POE supported and whether POE is enabled or not.
  • Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) detection, which checks if the VLAN telegrams are being forwarded.
  • Wi-Fi to check the signal strength associated with an access point hardware device (BSSID) and network name (SSID) if connecting via Wi-Fi.


Where To Go Next?

To get started on these six tips, check out the Softing NetXpert XG, an Ethernet cable and network qualification tool that many universities, hospitals, IT professionals, system integrators, and cable installation technicians are using on copper, fiber, POE and active networks. This qualification tool can save you time and money while providing greater network throughput. You’ll also only need to replace cables and network devices as needed — all without bringing in three separate specialists. And, you’ll have an amazing tool for daily cable troubleshooting and active network management.


For more information, visit Softing AG and check out the NetXpert XG2.