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ITU Touts Low Cost Fibre Optic Cable for Rural DIY Broadband Builds

Saturday, Jan 12th, 2019 (12:01 am) - Score 3,403

A series of new ITU standards promise to help encourage the ‘Do-It-Yourself‘ generation to build their own Terabit capable remote broadband networks. The standards propose a cheap, tough and lightweight optical fibre cable that can be laid on the grounds surface, underwater, aerially or shallow buried with hand tools.

The new standards (L.163, L.1700 and L.110 – more on these later) are arguably aimed more at developing countries, although they could also help rural communities in other parts of the world and be useful as a solution for connecting some of the world’s most challenging locations.

For example, Nepal is already starting to use an ITU-standardized lightweight optical cable to connect places as remote as the Mount Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Trekking Trail via 10km of cable. You can’t get much more extreme than that and it’s certainly not the sort of location where traditional civil engineering machinery is going to be of much help.


Ordinarily the best that such locations could hope for would be an expensive and flaky Satellite connection or slow mobile / wireless data link. Getting access to a high capacity optical fibre could make a huge difference. Suffice to say that such cables need to be tough enough to withstand a fair bit of punishment (e.g. when dug to a shallow depth using basic hand tools), but still light enough and cheap enough that they could be cheaply deployed.

Haruo Okamura, Editor of the Standards (Waseda University), said:

“Today the costs of optical cable installation are typically 70 to 80 per cent of the entire CAPEX of the network. The designs of conventional optical cables are specific to their installation environment – whether duct, directly buried, lashed aerial or submerged – with installation methods relying on specialized machinery and skilled labour.

In future we hope to see this lightweight optical cable for sale on websites like Alibaba and Amazon. The unique feature of this solution is its focus on ease of deployment. Cost-effective, practical implementation is the top priority.

This is the world’s first standardized solution expressly designed to narrow the digital divide.”

The relevant standards are as follows, with some being more recently approved than others.

The “New” ITU Fibre Standards

ITU L.163

This focuses on the installation, maintenance and repair of lightweight optical cable, addressing factors such as cable tension and temperature, cable-route planning, and the selection of cables and cable-installation schemes. The recent approval of ITU L.163 completes the series of standards, following the rural communications framework provided by ITU L.1700 and the optical cable design specified by ITU L.110.

ITU L.1700

This builds on established technologies to identify the founding principles for low-cost, sustainable broadband backhaul infrastructure, with a special focus on rural communications in developing countries. ITU L.1700 is largely technology-neutral, providing the framework for technology-specific standards such as ITU L.110.

ITU L.110

The design of the optical cable specified by ITU L.110 builds on lightweight submarine-cable technology originally targeted towards lakes and wetlands. The technology has proven its worth in Japan, where the last 20 years have seen the deployment of over 20,000 kilometres of this form of optical cable. ITU L.110 has adapted this design to terrestrial deployment, taking an established technology and giving it new life in a new application environment.

We suspect that UK operators won’t be making much use of these, not least because such networks usually to follow certain standards in order to ensure the security of what is built (except perhaps on private property). But never say never.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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6 Responses
  1. Avatar photo CarlT says:

    This might be useful for me, depending what happens to the cost of NBASE-T. Going to have some cabling to do in the new place and not averse to a fibre optic spine to branch out from, though if 10GBASE-T comes down in price no point.

    1. Avatar photo Tim says:

      None of these standards are intended for in home fibre cabling.

    2. Avatar photo Joe says:

      Might be useful between buildings though. I have outdoor cat 6 between some of my buildings. A robust fibre solution could tempt such examples

    3. Avatar photo CarlT says:

      Also for external cabling between floors where the spine is outside. Save having to use conduit.

  2. Avatar photo Ha ha ha says:

    Will have fastest connections in the Everest than in Lincolnshire.

    1. Avatar photo Tim says:

      Faster than Kent too!
      … faster than 99% of the UK for that matter.

Comments are closed

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