Friday, 09 July 2010 16:55

Broadband fibre via sewer mooted for Brisbane


A successful trial of a system for running fibre optic cables through sewers has been completed in Brisbane, and a large-scale rollout may follow.

Brisbane-based I3 Asia Pacific has connected two Brisbane City Council premises with a fibre optic cable that runs through the sewer network. The two locations are 1.4km apart.

"It was a resounding success," I3 strategy director Andrew Lawson told iTWire. "It met all their requirements" and did not interfere with the sewers.

I3's parent company has already cabled Bournemouth and Dundee in the UK, and has completed projects in Abu Dhabi and South Africa, among others.

The idea of running cable though sewers fell out of favour in some circles after projects in Paris, London and New York failed. The problem there, Lawson said, was that the cable attachment to the roof lining failed. I3's technology uses a loose-laid cable at the bottom of the sewer. A specialised cable is used to withstand the hostile environment.

The approach also involves selecting sewers with an extremely low maintenance record, so there is little danger that the cable will lead to clogging, or that the cable would be damaged during cleaning (especially as high-pressure water jets are used these days in place of mechanical cleaning).

There's more to I3 than just running fibre through sewers - see page 2.

The FS 'fibre through sewer' cabling system is not the only weapon the I3's arsenal. It is in partnership with construction equipment specialist JCB to produce microtrenching equipment (microtrenching cuts a slot around 600mm deep and 20mm wide in which the cable is laid, minimising disruption to roads, etc), and I3's Atlantis system uses the mains water supply pipe to run fibre into individual premises.

Atlantis is currently undergoing testing in the UK to UK, AUstralian and New Zealand standards. "The regulations are incredibly strict, said Lawson, adding that the company expects imminent approval, with deliveries beginning in the fourth quarter of 2010.

I3 also produces GPON splitter units.

So a typical installation by I3 would run fibre to an area through the most available conduit (possibly the sewers). From there, microtrenching would be used to service clusters of around 15 homes, taking the fibre into the building using Atlantis or in a loose dug trench.

"Using the sewer, the cost dynamics are incredible," he said, suggesting that the Brisbane trial cost just 25% of the next lowest quotation.

While aerial cabling is theoretically cheap, Lawson suggested this advantage can be lost if the electricity supplier decides the existing poles cannot cope with the extra load and requires the fibre network provider to carry the cost of replacing them.

Is i3 trying to compete with NBN Co? Please read on.

I3 has confirmed it is in discussions with Brisbane City Council to speed the rollout of fibre across Brisbane by utilising the sewer network.

Lawson stressed that I3 is not trying to compete with the NBN. "THat would be a total nonsense," he said. Rather, the company sees NBN Co or its network planning or engineering contractors as potential customers. "We are talking to some of the major contractors," he said, but would not be more specific.

Footnote: In 2007, a Google April Fool joke described TISP, a low-cost fibre-optic broadband connection self-installed by flushing a cable down the toilet.



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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.



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