Upgrading legacy copper telecommunications cabling to ultrafast fibre-optic cable is currently a disruptive, expensive and time-consuming process. It often requires micro-trenching, (cutting narrow and shallow trenches into roads and other surfaces) that not only disturbs urban centres but is also restricted in many areas. The EU-funded Upstart project has developed a fast and simple solution for replacing copper cables with fibre-optic ones that is also environmentally friendly, cost-effective and scalable.
Upstart’s technology injects specialised biodegradable lubricating fluids under pressure between the cable sheath and the copper inner core. This compresses the core, which is then removed using a winch. The replacement cable is drawn through as the redundant core is pulled out. Fast2Fibre, the company behind the innovation (also known as Fast2Fibre technology or F2F), had developed the technology ahead of the project. According to CEO and project coordinator Tom Fitzherbert, “When a major European communication provider expressed conditional interest, we set out to meet their demands for proof of reliability, scalability, cost-effectiveness and ease of use.” The Fast2Fibre project was born from this goal, providing funding to significantly expand research and development efforts. However, as Fitzherbert explains, “Incomplete telecom records meant greater time had to be invested in understanding the cable characteristics and conducting laboratory tests to ensure a working solution before deployment. This required significant enhancements to the field equipment, tribology testing of the fluids and industrialisation of the ancillary components.”
The project developed different fluids for different cable types to offer a solution for most, while focusing on the most common. More than 400 cables have been field-tested, details of which are in the Fast2Fibre cable database accessible to the client. Fast2Fibre technology can replace between 60 to 150 metres in a single extraction and more than 500 metres in a single day, nearly double that possible with a construction crew and conventional methods. In addition, there are negligible delays to starting the replacement process as fewer permits are required. Given that the overall costs associated with digging in urban or inaccessible areas can be up to 80 % of the total cost, the technology provides significant financial incentives. Further, according to Fitzherbert, “On a recent project, we increased productivity or speed of replacement by well over 600 % relative to digging.” Risk of damage to existing infrastructure is virtually eliminated.
On the way to market
The potential market is enormous with communication providers in Europe and further afield requiring innovative solutions to increase their speed of fibre delivery. According to Fitzherbert, “The original goals were achieved and new techniques were discovered to enable solutions covering many more cable types. As a result, we have won our original customer’s confidence and will be responsible for its network upgrade programme. In addition, discussions to begin two commercial contracts in Q4 2019 are at an advanced stage and another six are in the pipeline.” Project deliverables will help European and global communication providers serve the 5G rollout in advance of their competition. Fast2Fibre is in the process of scaling the business to meet that global demand.
Upstart, cable, copper, 5G, fibre-optic, cabling, micro-trenching, lubricating fluid, mobile, broadband