AT&T: Micro-trenching is a key part of our FTTH installation process

AT&T (NYSE: T) has continued to find ways to expand its fiber footprint for residents and like other service providers sees the micro-trenching as a key tool in its FTTH installation toolbox.

Micro-trenching involves cutting a small trench in the ground and then installing a microduct to bring fiber into a business or residential premises.

While micro-trenching has come into the spotlight over the past year due to Google Fiber and CenturyLink's technology trials in the markets where they offer FTTH services, AT&T has been using it already.  

"Micro-trenching is not something new and it has been the industry standard for the last 10 years," said Rehan Asad, AVP, broadband operations for AT&T, in an interview with FierceInstaller. "The gas companies, the utility companies had been using micro-trenching."

AT&T has found that it is seeing opportunities to use micro-trenching in major cities where ordinances aren't friendly to digging large trenches to lay fiber.

"In an urban city environment like San Francisco where they will not give you the permit so they will only let you do micro-trenching," Asad said. "Power companies use micro-trenching for power lines and now telecom companies like AT&T are doing it for fiber."

AT&T has been using micro-trenching in its own markets such as Malibu, California where the city sets limits on opening up streets to utilities, for example. Overall, the telco is looking at using micro-trenching on a case by case basis.   

"Some people think micro-trenching is a new innovative technology, but we are way ahead of the curve because we have been using it as early as 2010," Asad said. "It works in a downtown environment like San Francisco where we are not allowed to dig up the road site more than six feet."

In recent years, the microtrenching concept has gained considerable attention as CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL), Google Fiber (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) have announced some form of trial in their respective markets.

Google Fiber said it has developed a narrow edging strip that would conceal fiber run into homes from demarcation points in the streets to subscribers' homes. Similar to the micro-trenching process, the service provider noted in the patent application that this edging is unlike the current method of burying cables in yards or gardens, which it notes "requires significant effort and time."

Similarly, CenturyLink has devised a process in tandem with the University of Louisiana where it cuts a shallower-than-usual trench in the edge of a roadbed, deploying conduit and using a polymer seal over the top of it. This method would reduce fiber installation costs. The telco has been using this technology to improve the FTTH installation process in Seattle and Minnesota.

Finally, Verizon (NYSE: VZ), in conjunction with New York City, began a pilot project in 2013 that will use "micro-trenching," but it has not released any new details about how that project has progressed.

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