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Upgrade Speed To Accelerate Revolutionary Telecoms

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Upstart (Upgrade Speed To Accelerate Revolutionary Telecoms)

Reporting period: 2016-11-01 to 2017-10-31

The replacement of aging copper wire telephone legacy, internet infrastructures requires substantial investment and civil engineering works, such as the digging-up of roads to lay down high-speed broadband, account for up to 80% of the cost of deploying high-speed networks. Telecoms companies are rolling out fibre networks within EU member countries, across Europe, and in countries in the rest of the world. However, those companies are meeting their implementation targets by installing fibre from the area network to the street cabinet (otherwise known as the “Final Mile”) where it is most economic to do so leaving some 10 to 15% hard to reach broadband subscribers with a substandard service. Furthermore, whilst the target of 100Mbps was the target for 2020 set in 2012, technology has moved on and the new standard being set by countries such as South Korea with advanced digital networks is up to 10Gbps. Although copper wire internet infrastructures are slow they are ubiquitous, based on telephone communication and reaching into almost every household and business. F2F’s solution is a cable extraction technology to enable the utilization of the copper wire infrastructure and with very limited expensive excavation replace the copper inner core of the pre-existing cable with fibre optic cable using the original cable sheath as a duct. Our technology is focused on extraction and replacement of the copper core cable both from the broadband backbone to the area network and from the area network to the street connection point. It works by compressing the copper inner core within the sheath of a buried or ducted cable using a lubricating fluid injected at pressure between the cable sheath and wrapping around the copper inner core. Once the inner core is fully compressed, it is extracted using a winch and the replacement fibre optic cable can be drawn through as the redundant core is pulled out.
The objectives for the project are to develop the technology from TRL7 to TRL9 for the extraction of the copper inner core from the legacy telecom broadband cable by compression to create a duct for fibre optic cable so that it is a robust proven process to be licenced to and operated by end users who install fibre optic networks.

The technology in its present format was developed using standard equipment and components such as the pump and winch, adapted to demonstrate the process. The database is in a basic form and requires development in terms of functionality and also so it can be remotely accessed, for update and reporting, from a secure server hosting a web interface to the database. Furthermore, the compression and lubrication fluid requires development so that there are a limited number of formulations that work over a range of operating conditions (particularly temperature) for a range of cables. Finally, a new connector system needs to be developed as individual connectors are required for each cable diameter; Given that there are thousands of variants of copper wire cables in the European legacy network, a connector system is required that can connect to the widest range of cables with the minimum number of connectors to ensure operational, and cost, efficiency. Given the age of the legacy network, the records of cable types running between the area network and street cabinets across Europe is poor generally. Our objective is that each team arriving to extract a cable can do so carrying a fixed range of extraction fluids and connectors and be equipped with a pump and winch, so that the process is able to extract the core from most cables in Europe, and around the World.
Another factor that was unforeseen (but welcome) was early commercial success for the company. This has involved operations, testing and development in the field, to demonstrate commercial viability to clients, and future investors.

Despite causing some resourcing issues, the impact on the project has been beneficial, and a lot of development work can be conducted in the field. For example, fluid testing can be conducted with older versions of the pump, and real world user requirements can be collected which feed into the project.
The project is at an early stage however our early commercial interactions are bringing forward the societal impacts of the project. F2F technology can be used for the replacement of all legacy copper core cable; however we project that where it is easy to install fibre, such as in readily accessible pre-existing ducts or strung along poles, the telecoms companies will use a simple installation process. Where our technology will be used is for the installation of fibre optic cable in urban environments where it is deemed Hard to Reach. Such installations are termed Hard to Reach because they involve one or more issues: including extensive and expensive digging; conservation areas where digging is not allowed; crossing ground where the rights of access are complex requiring a considerable administrative workload; or many underground obstructions preventing the use of either moling or slit trenching. The telecoms companies estimate that about 15% to 20% of optical fibre installation could be classed as ‘Hard to Reach’. This market has a total market value of €174.5bn based on a commissioned study by Analysys Mason for the UK and extrapolated to the EU5, along with known market opportunities.

Presently our customers measure their installation rates and costs against digging for the provision of fibre optic cable and whilst there is a large amount of fibre infrastructure to install, they’re presently deferring the installation of hard to reach fibre leaving many areas with a slow broadband service. We estimate that the cost saving of our no dig approach is 60% cheaper than digging in city/ urban environments which is 80% of the cost of installing fibre optic cable in city/urban areas with an overall cost saving of 48%. From our discussions with telecoms companies this should enable them to substantially service the 6% of hard to reach customers in urban environments with a cost that should enable them to get a good return on investment.
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