Stream sewer robot rides again

How much is not being stuck in traffic worth to you?

The Town of Richmond Hill, Ont. thinks its’ worth a great deal. This was part of the motivation in signing a 15-year agreement with Stream Intelligent Networks to install fibre optic network in the sewer system. Bruce Macgregor, Richmond Hill commissioner of engineering and public works, says initially he expects about 10 to 20 kilometres of fibre will be laid in its most active business parks.

Macgregor says Stream was chosen for a number of reasons. One was a technological advantage in the form of its STAR (sewer telecommunications access robot). Thanks to the device that operates in the sewer system, Stream can lay fibre without tearing up streets, sidewalks and lawns.

The Toronto-based company says STAR is approximately six-feet long and can install up to 800 metres of cable a day. An aboveground operator guides the device through the sewer systems thanks to a video feed. The robot attaches fibre to walls at one-metre intervals with tie bolts. Stream says STAR can operate in tunnels ranging from 20 centimeters to 1.2 metres in diameter. The cable is said to be both rodent- and chemical-proof.

Thanks to the deregulation of the telecommunications industry, Macgregor says the city streets have become fair game.

“When they deregulated gas and hydro, they didn’t open up our rights of way to a number of different companies that wanted to install gas mains or hydro lines. They said there would be common carriers because we’re not going to let that street junk proliferate,” says Macgregor.

The same wasn’t true for telecoms. Macgregor says streets all over the Greater Toronto Area have been ripped up to accommodate companies “who have a federally provided guaranteed of access to public rights of way.” Since Stream leases the fibre, he says it could carry signals for four or five companies.

The other advantage is economic. For starters Stream pays Richmond Hill for the rights to be in the sewer and pre-cleans them, according to vice-president of business development Franco Lofranco. But Macgregor says the real savings are something that might not be able to calculate.

“You can never put a price on traffic delays,” says Macgregor. “It impedes our economy. And, if nothing else, if you do it often enough it encourages people to move and businesses to move.”

Richmond is not the first city in the GTA use the robot. STAR was charged to connect 14 buildings with 216 strands of single-mode fibre over a five kilometer network in Mississauga late last year.

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