Installing fiber-optic cable has been conventionally expensive and difficult to achieve. Boring, trenching, and stringing aerially along poles are cost restrictive, and projects can take enormous amounts of time to complete. Many planning steps are needed when choosing to bore or trench. Initial surveys must be completed to determine soil conditions, underground obstructions, existing utilities, and environmental conditions. Often, communities are impacted by widespread road shutdowns and surrounding area utility outages. Aerial installations require large crane trucks with highly skilled lineman to stop at each pole, assuming the poles already exist. If the poles do not exist, then permits must be obtained and each pole must be placed into the ground, increasing costs even further.
Industry experts and installers have developed several techniques to combat the challenges associated with utility installation, each with their own pros and cons. Trenching, boring, Horizontal Directional Drilling, and plowing all focus on installing cables and conduits below the earth’s surface, often 24” – 60” underground. Microtrenching was created as a less expensive and less disruptive alternative. While microtrenching could be more cost efficient in certain cases, it is still extremely invasive during installation, causing road closures and potential utility outages for long periods of time. To overcome these issues, TRAXyL created FiberTRAX, a rapid and efficient way to essentially “paint” fiber optic cables along paved surfaces.
The FiberTRAX approach flips the idea of trenching on its head. It minimizes the installation depth to near zero while still protecting the fiber cable. This eliminates the need for utility locates, massive construction equipment, and large crew sizes, and the process generates minimal debris. With FiberTRAX, one installation machine, called a TRAXtor, can install fiber cable at an average speed of 1,000 feet per hour, with a two-to-three-person crew. A TRAXtor etches the paved surface, creating a channel 8 to 15mm wide and deep. The minimal debris generated by the small etch is vacuumed by the TRAXtor and can be disposed of in bags (this is unlike microtrenching where debris is disposed of by trucks). All in the same forward motion, a cable is inserted into the channel and a highly durable resin backfills the groove and cable payload to seal the cable into the pavement surface. The protective coating is cured in under an hour, allowing traffic and pedestrians to resume with no impact to operations. FiberTRAX can accommodate from 2 to 96 fibers which is perfect for last-mile and campus like environments (manual intervention may be required to accommodate more than 24 fibers).
The TRAXtor is the size of a ride-on lawnmower, enabling mobility on the side of roads without any closures. FiberTRAX can also be applied to any paved surface such as sidewalks, walking or bike paths, flightlines, bridges highways and more. By only etching a groove into the surface, FiberTRAX avoids all risks of damaging underground utilities. Without the need to identify utilities, FiberTRAX is the only cable installation technique that can be installed on-demand and on the day of a request. The final product is sleek, clean, and can be installed using a multitude of colors for high-visibility or blended to color-match the surface, making it more visually pleasing to neighborhoods and other aesthetically conscious areas. It is also extremely durable and resistant to extreme weather.
FiberTRAX was recently installed in a remote facility located in Hunter, New York on the Catskill Mountains. The facility required that the fiber installation be finished prior to the facility opening for the summer, without ruining the aesthetics of the facility. The customer had a limited budget, and the use of large equipment was restricted as most of the camp could only be accessed by small roads. Conventional installation techniques, including microtrenching were not a viable option because the potential to hit unknown underground utilities was too great, costs were too high, and the schedule for installation was too long. FiberTRAX was the best option to achieve the goals of the facility. FiberTRAX was installed using four TRAXyL employees. The equipment was transported via pick-up truck with attached trailer. Over two days, approximately 1,800 feet of FiberTRAX was installed and a fully operational network was ready weeks before the facility opened for the new campers.
FiberTRAX and microtrenching are both options for contractors to utilize when building a cable network. However, FiberTRAX is less invasive, more cost efficient, faster to install, and can be performed on-demand. Microtrenching cuts through multiple layers of pavement, creating an expansion joint where one was never intended. It can cause damage to utilities and paved surfaces due to expansion and contraction of separated layers. Water migration through penetrated layers can also damage the pavement.
FiberTRAX etches a shallow channel into the wearing layer only, and never penetrates through the surface. FiberTRAX protects cables and conduits from damage by incasing them in a strong and durable Top Coat. FiberTRAX avoids the pains associated with damaging an unforeseen underground obstacle. Underground locating and bothersome right-of-way closures are no longer a problem with FiberTRAX.