FiberFest focuses on urban FiOS installation challenges

BOXBOROUGH, MA—FiberFest New England 2008, the annual conference of the New England Fiberoptic Council held May 12, 2008, at the Boxborough, MA Holiday Inn, featured approximately 40 exhibitors.

BOXBOROUGH, MA—FiberFest New England 2008, the annual conference of the New England Fiberoptic Council held May 12, 2008, at the Boxborough, MA Holiday Inn, featured approximately 40 exhibitors. While the small number of table-top exhibits didn’t bring many (if any) buying customers to the event, the main Plenary talk was an interesting comment on the fiber market, focusing on the challenges of fiber network installation in urban areas.

Chris Parker, engineering manager, Greater Boston Outside Plant (OSP) at Verizon (Boston, MA), spoke on “Challenges, Solutions, and Future Directions for Fiber Installations.” His commentary explained the reasons why Verizon has focused its initial fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) fiber-optic system (FiOS) installations on suburban communities, skipping urban areas.

“We faced a big controversy,” said Parker, referring to a Boston Globe article Nov. 2, 2006: “An urban fiber-optic challenge.” A 2005 article on Massachusetts FiOS deployment noted that Verizon was “cherry-picking affluent areas for advanced services.” Congressmen questioned why speedy fiber-optic cable and Internet installation, six times faster than cable, was “only offered in affluent, white suburbs,” a practice amounting to “broadband redlining.”

The four major difficulties in urban environments are access to properties, measurement challenges, density of customers, and the multitude of dropwires. In Boston, challenges include old infrastructure and eighty-year-old maps of manholes and properties. Condominium homeowner associations, which are more common in cities than in suburbs, are reluctant to provide access to utilities, says Parker, and “Even when we have permission, we’ve got big Rottweilers, fences, sheds—you can’t get from yard to yard.” In the suburbs, installers can easily splice to utility poles on the sidewalks with a police detail.

Nevertheless, in late 2006, Verizon began an urban test-bed deployment in the densely-populated Boston neighborhood of Dorchester, MA. The expected difficulties occurred, including backyard reconstruction of a doghouse down to the correct-color vinyl siding. “People don’t want you in their backyard taking notes,” said Parker, “much less digging up their yard and reconstructing walls.” A single telephone pole in Dorchester might require 36 ports for 36 customers, whereas suburban poles might require 4 ports.

To address these challenges, Verizon developed the Verizon Advanced Termination System (VATS), a multi-port box specifically designed for densely populated areas, which offers drop-in and plug-in ports in a smaller box that serves more customers. Verizon’s installation of self-support VATS (where cable is attached to existing poles not on a public way) began in urban New York City and Dorchester in mid-2006. The new VATS ports were also found to be applicable in the suburbs. To bring fiber all the way to the premise, the incorporation of bend-insensitive fiber in the near future will enable fiber cable to bend more tightly around inside corners. And several companies have recently demonstrated wireless high-density multichip interconnect (HDMI) units involving a set-top box that will eliminate the need for cable inside the living unit. Such capabilities will be “coming down the road soon,” said Parker.

Further reflecting the “Outside Plant/Building Fiber Installation” theme of FiberFest, Craig Bowden, technical sales & service, FiberNext, spoke on “Challenges, Solutions, and Future Directions for OSP Fiberoptic Cabling Installation.” He discussed the discontinuity between the photonic products hitting the market and the arduous task of tradesmen and women to install them under harsh conditions. “Often the new developments are proprietary and not interoperable with other products,” said Bowden. The contractors and developers then struggle to keep pace with new product development and respond with comprehensive designs, procedures, and standards.

Although demand for advanced fiber services is expected to outpace installation for years to come, “The ongoing healthcare crisis and soaring fuel costs profoundly affect the industry,” said Bowden.
—Valerie Coffey

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