Fiber Deployment is Unstoppable, But, Oh, the Complications

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Connect(X) 2021 Coverage

With the Fiber Broadband Association estimating that fiber passes nearly 40 percent of 129 million U.S. homes with a penetration expected to reach 50 percent by 2025, fiber has a big job ahead of it. Yesterday at Connect(X) 2021 a breakout session entitled “Prepping Fiber Networks For 5G” drew a cross-section of attendees to the wireless infrastructure summit. The panel included Scot Bohaychyk, Market Manager, Wireless, Clearfield, Brandon T. Reed, Partner of Reed & Associates, L.L.C, Seán Adam, Vice President of Market Strategy and Innovation at AFL, and Jim Fryer, Inside Towers Managing Editor as moderator.

A common theme running through this panel, and many others at the conference, was that of high demand, but tempered with the need for a workforce that can handle it all. Reed, a former VP at Zayo, said there aren’t enough skilled workers which puts a demand on manufacturers to make their products easier to use, deploy and maintain. Representing the manufacturing view, Adam said splicing cable is not the hard part, but prepping for it takes training. Easier solutions are needed, said Bohaychyk, including an automated pluggable application to the prep. 

The panel agreed that an upside of the labor shortage is that it is driving more innovation from manufacturers in an effort to ease deployment delays.  

A major complication the panel addressed to fiber network buildout is dealing with municipalities and their lack of knowledge about the process. Bohaychyk said a given municipal Board can include a preacher, a farmer, a waitress and the like, with no knowledge of connectivity issues. They often opt for either the simplest solution, like micro-trenching or defer all decisions to the local service provider. He said he has encountered many cases where the fiber had to be ripped up following the nine-inch deep micro-trenching process and replaced with thicker casing that can withstand traffic and seismic disruptions. 

“Facebook doesn’t micro-trench,” Reed said. “They make sure they have redundancy with their data centers in case there are interruptions.”

The panel agreed that procuring an independent consultant is often the best first step for a zoning board who can present multiple options fitting the needs of the town or county.

Adam said municipalities face challenges on both ends. “On the front end, figuring out the feasibility – the business case – for achieving broadband access and on the back end, being left with a network they need to maintain and upgrade,” he said.

As communities plan for the future,” Reed said, “more and more focus needs to be on resiliency. Resiliency from weather, technology changes, citizen needs, businesses attraction and retention and dependency on private companies providing much-needed services such as high-speed internet. Quick recovery from misfortune or change could be crucial for the long-term survivability of a community.”

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