The next generation of wireless connection is currently being deployed. Telecom service providers are unleashing various bands of 5G signal, bringing about the faster, more robust connections required to power the Internet of Things. One might think that the wireless future is just that; wireless. That isn’t the case.
As the industry saying goes, the road to 5G is paved with fiber. Previous generations of wireless technology were able to utilize existing infrastructure to carry signal. This latest generation is not. Existing copper wire is incapable of handling the speed capacity brought by 5G. Fortunately, there is a solution in the form of fiber optic cable.
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Fiber optic cable
Fiber optic cable may not be a new technology, but it has shown to be the most capable means of transporting the amount of data 5G requires. Copper wire maxes out at a data transfer speed of around 40 Gbps. Fiber is capable of hundreds of Tbps. Fiber is also able to transmit much further lengths; almost 25 miles compared to copper’s limitation of 330 feet.
It is going to take an immense amount of fiber optic cable to help the country get connected at 5G speeds. In fact, it’s estimated that it will take 1.4 million miles of fiber to power the 25 largest cities in the US. There is expected to be around $250 billion invested in fiber optic cable in between 2020 and 2025.
The cable can be distributed by many means. Aerial line is mounted on utility poles. Long stretches have been laid using traditional trenching methods. These methods work well in certain situations, but a relatively new technique has proven to be the best in urban environments; microtrenching.
What is microtrenching?
Just as the name implies, a microtrench is simply a small trench. Microtrenching is typically done when the surface has already been covered by asphalt or concrete. It is less invasive and faster than typical trenching. It is also less likely to cause problems with existing underground utilities due to the small trench size. These factors make it ideal for use in urban environments.
How does it work?
A microtrenching machine cuts a small trench in the existing surface. This cut is typically 1 to 2 inches wide and less than two feet deep. While cutting, the same machine vacuums out the material, leaving a clean trench as it moves along. The fiber is then installed in the new trench, either in a its own protective coating or blown through conduit.
After the fiber install is complete, the trench is refilled in a process called reinstatement. Various materials are used for fill. In some cases, asphalt is simply poured in the chasm. Newer techniques involve pouring a resin in the trench, called infill resin. A bright orange layer is poured in first, meant to alert any future excavators about the wire below. Pigment is added to the top layers of resin so it can closely match the surface that surrounds it. When done right, a microtrench is barely noticeable when complete.
How is microtrenching different than traditional trenching?
There are a few ways microtrenching differs from older techniques. Traditional trenching by backhoe is limited in size by the bucket size of the machine. For a typical backhoe, the smallest bucket width was around 12 inches. Trenching by backhoe is also typically much deeper than microtrenching, and therefore more likely to accidentally hit other underground utilities.
Though capable of cutting a smaller trench than a backhoe, purpose built trenching machines still cut a wider patch than microtrenchers. Backhoes and trenching machines also become limited when unnatural surfaces come into play. For instance, when a roadway interrupts the trenching path of a traditional trenching machine there were two options. The first would be to cut and remove a portion of the road so you can lay your fiber. This is extremely time consuming, costly and inconvenient. The road may have to be closed for a period of time, which is annoying to drivers and could hurt local businesses.
The other option would be to use horizontal boring. While less intrusive than the first option, it still requires a deep trench to be dug where the boring will start. The roadway should avoid interruption with this method, but there is an increased risk of accidentally hitting another utility, especially when boring across the right of way.
The benefits of microtrenching
Laying fiber is the costliest part of expanding broadband across the country. Microtrenching is much faster and cheaper than traditional trenching methods. It is estimated to be one-third the cost of a traditional trench. As far as speed is concerned, Google Fiber estimates that it can run fiber to 50 homes per day using microtrenching but only 50 homes per month without it.
Unlike what was detailed previously, crossing a roadway by microtrench is a cinch. Only one lane of traffic would need to be disrupted at a time while trenching, and the process could easily be completed in a day. The narrowness of the trench even means that should an emergency arise, crews would be able to drive across the open trench without issue.
Microtrenching is also more environmentally friendly than other trenching methods. It uses less water and disrupts less land. The equipment is also smaller than traditional trenching machinery. Microtrenching crews are often smaller as well, sometimes just consisting of two people.
Factoring to fund your microtrenching jobs
The use of microtrenching to expand the fiber network is not only becoming more widely used, at times it’s becoming the only method allowed. New York City, for example, has required microtrenching for most underground cable installations since 2013. With millions of miles of fiber destined for urban areas, microtrenching has a bright future.
Unfortunately, the companies hiring telecom contractors to run their fiber tend to be slow at paying invoices. It’s situations like this where Factor Finders can help. We’ll get you paid quickly so you can fund the next project and continue paving the road to 5G. Give us a call or fill out this form to start factoring your microtrenching invoices today!