TELECOMMUNICATIONS/Cities go underground for fiber optics
City leaders, building owners and the general public are tired of the noise, traffic snarls and other inconveniences resulting from fiber optic cable routing projects. Some cities have endured costly phone and power outages, water main breaks and other calamities as contractors were forced to weave their way between existing utility lines and other obstacles.
But a new installation method is finding favor with city public works departments and private building owners because it delivers fiber optics without the construction hassles. Developed by Silver Spring, Md.-based CityNet Telecommunications, the concept involves routing fiber optic cables through existing sewer lines. In the process, cities get their sewer lines cleaned, inspected and repaired if needed, and building managers and their tenants get the high-speed data and telecom services that fiber optics offer.
The new installation method is helping cities and counties bridge “the last mile” — the gap between end-user buildings and the much larger “beltway” fiber optic networks that circle cities. (Older and slower copper cables currently occupy the last mile.)
The process begins with an engineering evaluation of the sewer lines, performed by a small computer-driven camera and displayed on closed-circuit television. The camera provides detailed views of the sewer line interior to operators on the surface. The lines are cleaned and repaired if necessary.
Then a Sewer Access Module (SAM) robot enters the sewer line to install stainless steel alloy rings that will support the conduit that protects the fiber from corrosion and cuts. Also made of stainless steel, the conduit is installed by SAM on a final journey through the sewer line. Finally, fiber cables are strung through the conduit and connected to the beltway network and the building infrastructure.
Installations employing the method have drawn praise. “A high-growth city like ours needs broadband communications as much as our forefathers needed the railroads,” says Albuquerque Mayor Jim Baca. “These types of innovations have made Albuquerque one of America’s top technology cities. The unique technology and approach give us the most innovative way of delivering advanced high-speed communications, while protecting our city’s roads and streets.”
Roger Reich, senior facilities management specialist, Carter & Burgess, Fort Worth, Texas