Traditional large suburbs have ample servitude space that allows for conventional trenching, but this is not as easily available as network operators look to expand into more densely populated communities.
Here, fibre optic cables are strung from poles, in a similar manner to how legacy copper networks were rolled out for telephony services – or how electricity is still distributed in many communities.
Aerial fibre is not an uncommon deployment methodology and is used even in developed countries, such as the United Kingdom, to provide fibre connectivity to high-density neighbourhoods. Aerial fibre also helps better tackle the challenge of adequately catering to the number of users within a property. In traditional suburbs, the number of users per erf is more certain, while in more dense neighbourhoods, there can be uncertainty about the number of homes that need to be connected within a particular property. FNOs deploying aerial fibre also do not have to worry about addresses, as they can just look at which is the closest pole to the user.
This method also gives operators flexibility during the design phase as they do not have to overbuild in advance, as the requirement for additional capacity in a particular community can be easily addressed. In the conventional trenched approach, operators have one chance to plan properly as they don’t want to go back and trench again.
FNOs adopting the aerial approach just need to ensure that their poles are erected to the correct heights as required. Depending on whether it is located within the suburb, along a minor road, or a major trunk road, height restrictions will vary in order to facilitate the safe movement of large vehicles. While aerial fibre deployments require fewer people on-site, due to the lack of trenching, erecting poles correctly and at the right height requires that contractors have the necessary skills and specialised equipment.
There are few instances where additional poles need to be installed and the only available space is within someone’s erf, which first requires the permission of the landowner. This is generally avoided where possible, because in certain circumstances these poles can become a security risk.
A disadvantage of aerial fibre deployments is that the cables are exposed to the elements. For example, strong wind conditions can cause the cables to break. Another example is when cables contract (when it is cold) and expand (when it is hot), and this continuous movement ultimately impacts the lifespan of the infrastructure. The good thing is that because the cables are just strung up on poles, breaks can be easily identified – as opposed to trenched fibre where advanced detection equipment is needed – and fixed or replaced. In addition, being private sector players with a brand and reputation to protect, FNOs tend to ensure that their poles are well-maintained and cables are strung to requirements.
For the community, by the community
With traditional suburbs being saturated with fibre, and operators looking to further expand their networks into densely populated communities, it is very likely that this will be achieved through the use of aerial fibre. Such a method of deployment allows FNOs to get into more areas and bring users fibre connectivity at a rate that they can afford.
Aerial fibre is also ideal as maintenance becomes easier – the network operator knows which string provides a particular user with connectivity and which pole they are connected to. Once people get used to the reliability and stability of fibre, network interruptions can be especially frustrating; as a result of the aerial deployment methodology, the network operator can respond more quickly and take the necessary action to restore connectivity.
Of course, there is the concern that aerial fibre, with its exposed infrastructure, might be more prone to being targeted by criminal activity. It is quite likely that there will be theft in the beginning, before criminals quickly realise that there is no resale value to the fibre optic cables. FNOs are also turning to the communities themselves in order to take care of the infrastructure that has been brought in, by using locals for a variety of activities ranging from sales to activations, while contractors are encouraged to have local maintenance teams.
Ultimately, fibre is going to add value to the local economy and help uplift communities, and community members will look to protect infrastructure as it makes a difference in their lives, by bringing broadband connectivity to all.