Ericsson's pact with Ditch Witch, Vermeer gives service providers another fiber installation source

Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) has established partnerships with Ditch Witch and Vermeer to accelerate fiber network installation processes, giving service providers a new one-stop source of equipment, training and field support.

Both companies are well known suppliers of drills, drill pipe, HDD tooling, vacuum excavators and trenchers for service providers rolling out underground fiber networks.

By working with Ditch Witch and Vermeer, Ericsson said it can enhance the scale and startup times for its customer's fiber network projects.

"Ditch Witch and Vermeer virtually sell to every contractor in the telecom construction space so they're natural partners for us in that what we're seeking to do is create new fiber deployment capacity," said Ed Delong, VP of fiber and outside plant for North America for Ericsson, in an interview with FierceInstaller. "What we're seeking to do is essentially create new fiber deployment capacity."

What Ericsson hopes it can capitalize on with this relationship is the ongoing service provider roll outs of FTTH service by a host of service providers such as AT&T (NYSE: T), CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL), Google Fiber (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA). Given the size of these FTTH deployments, there's a lack of supply for construction services.

Under the agreement, Ericsson will not only leverage Ditch Witch and Vemeer's equipment capabilities, but also their proven methods and training.

"Our view -- and we have been guided to this view by our customers -- is that there's a supply and demand issue," DeLong said. "There's simply not enough supply of construction deployment capability of capacity to support the pace at which the operators are building, and they're looking to Ericsson to scale up these large deployment projects. And an important part of that is providing new capacity."

Like other companies, Ericsson is also seeing growing interest in emerging underground fiber deployment methods like micro-trenching, particularly on existing rights-of-way. Microtrenching involves the cutting of a small trench with a diamond circular saw. A construction company will then install microduct within the shallow trench, and fiber is pushed through the conduit to the premises. This method allows the ability to quickly deploy fiber conduit, while minimizing disruption to a city street.

CenturyLink is trialing microtrenching technology in the Minnesota and Seattle markets where it offers 1 Gbps service. The telco said that this method would reduce fiber installation costs when taking FTTH into existing Brownfield areas, for example.

While not specifically addressing what methods it will use in working with Ditch Witch and Vermeer, De Long acknowledged the merits of microtrenching.

"Technologies like microtrenching enable the ability to deploy fiber within that urban environment that's less intrusive, requires less restoration and can achieve higher levels of production so the projects complete more quickly," Delong said.

In addition to micro trenching, Ericsson is looking at new "locate" technologies within the equipment that can provide contractors where existing utility lines are. By having more knowledge of existing facilities, a contractor could potentially avoid costly damage by severing a gas or electric line when installing a trench for new fiber.

The new construction crews created by Ericsson and its partners could use this locate technology during network builds.

"Locate technology is probably one of the areas that's developing very rapidly," Delong said. "The ability to utilize locate technology to avoid hitting underground utilities and to guide the beacon in a directional drill are examples of a couple of things that will soon be available in the market."

Delong added that the emergence of locate technology means that it's the "perfect time for us to bring this capacity that leverages the existing technology to make these crews more productive and get more consistent quality from their work."

But Ericsson is not looking to put large construction companies like Dycom and Henkels and McCoy out of business. Rather, their fiber construction work will be complementary.

"I think an important aspect of the story is we're not trying to compete with existing contractors and we're not trying to take resources away from those contractors," Delong said. "What we're looking to do is leverage best practices and train up new crews from outside the industry to create telecom construction capacity so operators can deploy these projects more quickly."

For more:
- see the release

Editor's Corner: AT&T, CenturyLink, and Google Fiber gain new edge in FTTH construction processes

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CenturyLink develops trenching process to simplify brownfield FTTH deployment process

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