Level 3 improves fiber installation, reduces disruption with microtrenching in Brazil

Level 3 has implemented microtrenching fiber installation in a neighborhood in Sao Paulo, Brazil, that it said will decrease disruption as it deploys fiber throughout the country. 

The company worked with a series of construction vendors, including DitchWitch, Furukawa, Duraline – Amanco/Mexichem Group and Omega Construcoes for this project.

Luiz Felipe Lorenzoni, senior outside plant planning engineering specialist for Level 3, told FierceInsaller that microtrenching can provide a number of construction benefits in building out fiber in new areas.

"The main goal here is to reduce impact on urban areas using a constructive method that reduces the digging area and depth to install fibers on streets and sidewalks," Lorenzoni said. "This results in faster operations, smaller construction areas and easier recovery, reducing operational costs."

What makes São Paulo a good candidate for microtrenching is that it is a large metro area with nearly 20 million inhabitants. During the past ten years, a number of service providers, including Level 3, built out a sizeable amount of underground and aerial network infrastructure.  

However, there are several challenges with traditional methods to lay fiber cables in underground trenches.

Laying fiber can cause potential disruption to other existing utilities such as water, electricity and gas. It also creates issues for residents and businesses since service providers digging up a street to lay fiber could cause traffic delays and access to sidewalks.

"Regular underground fiber demands a large digging effort, usually several feet wide and deep," Lorenzoni said. "This could result in several incidents for urban areas, like cutting water, electricity, gas and other ducts. It also typically takes weeks to execute, potentially blocking a sidewalk or a car lane. After that it is necessary to recover a large area. All of that often results in a large and expensive impact for local citizens."

Among the many benefits of optical microcables represented for Level 3 is that they have smaller dimensions compared to traditional cables and ducts.

What makes microfiber an advantage for underground fiber deployments is that the microcable used is a reduced optical cable. Traditional fiber cable has a thick insulation that provides physical protection for each fiber, but the microcable transfers this physical protection to the microduct, meaning the cable is lighter and smaller with the same capacity and number of fibers inside it.

Lorenzoni said that "reducing dimensions makes it possible to implement the microducts easier, inside microtrenches, normally a few inches deep and wide."

"As the trenches are smaller, they reduce incidents," Lorenzoni said. "Normally no outside ducts are contacted on the way, leaving gas, water and electricity free from incidents. The implementation is faster, cleaner and recovery is more efficient, resulting on less environment impact and reduced costs."

But what about just rolling out more fiber via more existing aerial utility poles?

Over the last 10 years the telecom infrastructure has boomed. For timing and cost, lots of aerial fibers were installed.

While hanging cables from existing aerial poles offers service providers like Level 3 benefits in terms of lower capital to install fiber, it is also prone to be damaged by man-made incidents such as car crashes.

"Aerial infrastructure has been frequent over years for simplicity and reduced costs, compared to underground fibers," Lorenzoni said. "But it resulted in overcrowded posts and visual pollution. Aerial infrastructure is also more vulnerable to incidents, like traffic collisions."

While service providers use various elements of microtrenching, interest in using some form of this technology is growing amongst service providers.

Joining Level 3 in using this technology is CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL), which has developed its own proprietary microtrenching process to simplify FTTH deployments in existing areas where utility poles aren't present.

Like Level 3, CenturyLink is trialing a method it co-developed 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 in Seattle and Minnesota. It said that method would reduce fiber installation costs.

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