Henkels & McCoy: Municipalities are embracing micotrenching, but cost remains a factor

Microtrenching may have been around for over a decade to lay fiber conduit and other utility lines, but only now are construction companies like Henkels & McCoy seeing more municipalities embrace it.

Duke Horan, telecom program manager for the Western region at Henkels & McCoy, told FierceInstaller communities initially resisted microtrenching, but they have come to accept it as a less invasive method to burying fiber cable.

"Initially, there was quite a bit of resistance because municipalities are used to utilities being buried 3-plus feet deep, and when someone said we want to put in something that's 12 inches deep there was some resistance to that," Horan said. "Over the last 24 months, you're finding the municipalities are starting to accept it as a fairly non-invasive construction methodology."

Horan added that the emergence of microtrenching in constructing fiber networks is similar to how directional boring is now widely accepted.

"It's similar to the way directional drilling got accepted because it was fairly less invasive then open trenching everything," Horan said.

Despite having to use a large microtrenching machine from Ditch Witch or Vermeer, the method enables service providers to install duct and get the street where they are laying fiber quickly.

Still, for all of its benefits to enhance installation timelines, the true test on whether or not a service provider will use microtrenching for a fiber build comes down to proving a business case.

"In the end, it's always going to be a cost driver, and if there's no cost benefit, you're not going to see anyone trying to get it done," Horan said. "Within the last year or so, the equipment has become efficient enough that the cost points are getting to where they need to be to make microtrenching a readily acceptable method for installing conduit."

Regardless of the challenges, a number of service providers like AT&T and Frontier are seeing the potential of using microtrenching building out their fiber networks.

Frontier, for one, sees microtrenching and directional boring as two methods it can use to control costs when it's building out FTTH in new housing developments.

Dan McCarthy, CEO of Frontier, told investors during a recent conference that the telco is focused on "using the best generation of micro-trenching or doing directional boring to provide the lowest cost to whoever is developing the subdivision."

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