Fibre-optic cable headed for your sewer pipes

Ultra Fast Broadband deployment a civil engineering challenge

New Zealand homes and businesses could soon be getting ultrafast broadband through their sewer pipes. The Government is gearing up to select firms to demonstrate various methods for deploying the fibre-optic cable that will be rolled out under its $1.5 billion ultrafast broadband scheme, and Brisbane firm I3 APAC, which has rolled out fibre through sewers, says it plans to be in the running. The firm – a subsidiary of Britain-based I3 Group – is touting sewer systems as a more cost-effective means of deploying fibre. It has completed a trial in Brisbane, connecting two sites over 1.4 kilometres of fibre, and successfully deployed fibre via sewers in Britain. Spokeswoman Lee McLean says its international technical support manager visited New Zealand last month and worked with network providers on field investigations in Wellington and Christchurch. "They examined sewer and other fibre networks and conducted an analysis of how I3 would be able to deploy in the New Zealand environment." I3 is now working on an installation analysis and expected costings. Firms wanting to demonstrate different methods of deploying fibre have until Friday to indicate their interest with the Economic Development Ministry, which has estimated the cost of "passive infrastructure", such as new underground ducting, could account for 50 to 80 per cent of the cost of the network build. I3 APAC's head of corporate strategy Andrew Lawson told Australian trade magazine Communications Day it hoped to have one million homes in Britain "fibred up" by the end of 2012. "We have some sort of track record of delivering at between 350 and 450 a home – and the benchmark [in Australia] is A$2000-$3000 [NZ$2400-$3600] a home." Previous sewer deployment schemes in Paris, London and New York had failed because the fastenings attaching fibre-optic cables to the sewer roof had perished in the toxic sewer environment and the cable fell out. I3 used a fortified loose-laid cable that ran along the bottom of the sewer, he said. "We have had no failures." The company selected sewers with a low maintenance record, to avoid blocking them. Tim Davin, policy manager at the Institution of Professional Engineers, says sewer pipes in New Zealand are relatively small in diameter, meaning blockages could be more of an issue if fibre was fed through them. Sewer pipes tend to follow gravity and land contours and may not run parallel along the length of the street, which could complicate a fibre deployment, but engineers are open to new methods, he says. I3 is also testing a system that uses mains water pipes to deliver fibre into premises for compliance with New Zealand standards, and has partnered with construction equipment firm JCB to produce microtrenching gear, ITWire said. At an industry conference earlier this month Crown Fibre Holdings CEO Graham Mitchell claimed that the deployment of a ubiquitous fibre network will be a civil engineering challenge. See Curse of the quarter acre section.

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