Fibre firm takes telecom out of the trenches

A Vancouver company thinks it has the solution to solving last mile headaches without tearing up the downtown core.

TeraSpan Networks has developed a vertical inlaid fibre system of trenchless deployment. Instead of tearing up the street

a saw cut is made down the asphalt or a crack cut in the sidewalk, and the cable is dropped in and then filled over.

The traditional alternative of laying fibre in a last mile setting has been to dig a deep trench in the street and lay a four-inch conduit between the manholes, essentially large underground concrete vaults.

“”It’s messy, it’s very disruptive, and it costs hundreds of dollars a meter,”” said TeraSpan president Darren Dofher. “”Ours is just a fraction of the cost.””

Dofher got the idea about five years ago when he saw it was costing too much to get people connected, and figured there had to be a better way than trenching to bridge the last mile.

“”This trenching just didn’t make any sense,”” said Dofher. “”If you’re getting a few thousand dollars of revenue a month out of a building, how can you justify spending a $150,000 to go get it?””

Dofher claims the trenchless system TeraSpan has developed is five to ten times less expensive then traditional trenching. The cable is of a different design to account for the different environment it is laid in, but the fibre itself is identical.

A perceived con is that by burying the cable a few inches below the surface it is more susceptible to cuts, but Dofher said that hasn’t been their experience. TeraSpan belongs to the various call before you dig services, and the cable is designed with deflecting technology to minimize shovel damage.

“”Traditional systems get hit as well, so there’s not really any advantage to them,”” said Dofher.

Typical customers for TeraSpan have been telecom service providers like Shaw and Telus and also smaller ISPs, as well as private customers, like universities and hospitals looking to connect several buildings on a campus. The solution has been deployed in Canada, the U.S., Bermuda and England.

The lower environmental impact aspect of trenchless deployment has also proven attractive to municipal zoning officials wary of letting companies tear up their streets and disrupt traffic to lay fibre.

“”It took a while to educate civic officials on the technology but now they actually love it. It represents way less work for them,”” said Dofher.

Sprint Canada used TeraSpan recently when it was looking to expand its network footprint in Vancouver. The company wanted to add some customers to its network as well as cut leasing costs by migrating some traffic from circuits leased from Telus onto its own network.

Serge Babin, Sprint Canada’s senior vice-president and CTO, said Sprint learned about TeraSpan’s trenchless technology several months ago.

“”It’s very cost effective in placing fibre in urban areas,”” said Babin.

Another consideration, Babin said, was that major cities are shying away from issuing permits for fibre companies to tear up their streets. It’s disruptive and inconvenient for the residents, and can also began to reflect poorly on the telecom companies causing the delays.

“”TeraSpan’s technology achieves the same results but doesn’t disturb the environment, so cities are more apt to accept it,”” said Babin.

While some of their customers did express minor concerns about possible network interruptions or cuts with the trenchless method, Babin said TeraSpan’s deflecting technology minimizes that possibility and by using a ring topology for the network there’s a built in redundancy, if there’s a cut the traffic re-routes on another leg of the fiber.

“”There are some concerns certainly, but they’ve worked the technology in a way that protects it,”” said Babin. “”Even in the major concrete trenches we have across Canada the splicing happens in ducts, and those ducts are susceptible to being hit by a car.””

Babin said he sees a place for both trenched and trenchless fibre deployment. However, with the wealth of redundant fibre laid in the ground today TeraSpan will be challenged to define its market, he added.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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