Why Don’t We Glue It on the Road?

The Washington, D.C. startup TRAXyL, patented methods to adhere fiber cables to hard surfaces, like roads, using substances that should protect them from basically anything, from weather to 50-ton excavators. Government Technologyreported the company is running a pilot test in two markets: Stillwater, OK and Fauquier County, VA.

The idea is to save cities money on fiber installation, whether underground or along utility poles since both have many logistical components involved.

“When you think of broadband, the fiber-optic cables are usually up in the air or they’re buried underground,” said Meagan Kascsak, Stillwater communications coordinator. “This is kind of in between, it’s on a hard surface like a street or a parking lot in this case.”

TRAXyL uses resin coatings, with methyl methacrylate (MMA) at the core, which can withstand cold temperatures and takes about 15 minutes to cure, meaning fiber can be laid quickly, reported Government Technology. MMA also has the potential to be cost-effective. According to TRAXyL Founder/CEO Daniel Turner, “Our costs aren’t identified yet because we’re not at scale, we’re still a small startup, but we’re thinking about costs of $5 a foot and even lower with scale. Trenching can be anywhere from $15 to $300 per foot, depending on what obstacles you’re getting into.”

TRAXyL’s approach could give local governments a way to quickly establish a connection, then make it more permanent later, reported Government Technology. This solution could help both school districts’ bottom-lines and make it easier to justify building into less densely populated areas. According to Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative, “If you can really lower the costs of getting the last mile out there, then you don’t need as many customers to break even.”

Mitchell does have apprehension about TRAXyL’s approach and the possibility of cable damage. “My concern would be one of liability, and particularly I’m dealing with lots of local governments where they want to make sure the police are well-connected, and you don’t want a technology that somebody could inadvertently or [intentionally] disable so easily,” he said.

However, Turner is confident in the product’s ability to protect cables from overhead trauma. And if tree roots impede from below or sidewalks require repair, Turner said there are options to remove the coatings. “We’d like to get our machinery or tools into the hands of installers across the country,” Turner said.

July 11, 2018         

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