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Openreach UK in World’s First Trial of New Air-Blown Ribbon Fibre Cable

Thursday, February 21st, 2019 (11:34 am) - Score 7,141
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Openreach (BT) has claimed that they could boost the roll-out of their new 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband ISP network by using a new type of air-blown ribbon fibre cable, which can be deployed “five times faster” than conventional cabling and is now under trial in Leeds UK.

At present the operator is currently deploying their “full fibre” network to cover 3 million UK premises by the end of 2020 (so far they’ve already done over 900,000 premises – adding 13,000+ every week) and possibly reaching 10 million by around 2025. Naturally anything that can speed this process up would be a bonus to their plans and that’s where the “world’s first” trial comes into play.

The new cable “bonds individual ultrafast fibres together in a web-like pattern that allows increased packing density in a cable” and this enables engineers to blow the cables long distances without having to joint. The ribbon format also allows engineers to join up (splice) together 12 fibres simultaneously (much faster), rather than having to do them individually, as is the case with traditional cables.

On top of that the design creates additional space in the cable, which means you can fit more than 432 fibres into small diameter cable sheaths (in Openreach’s network it only takes 1 fibre to serve 32 FTTP connections). These cables can be used to feed large areas from Openreach’s telephone exchanges, helping to connect more homes and businesses, and in less time.

The other benefit from this is that they can be “blown” into underground ducting (i.e. using compressed air instead of the slow process of manual pulling), which thanks to the larger capacity means they’re utilising existing duct space more efficiently.

Andy Whale, Openreach Chief Engineer, said:

“The advantages of this clever technology to Openreach are that we can splice less often and when we do have to splice we can do it more quickly. This means we will be able to build the big fibre cables or ‘spines’ supporting all our city builds in less time, with a less labour intensive and disruptive approach.

As we build bigger fibre networks to support the roll out of FTTP – especially in cities – we need to install higher fibre count spine cables to our exchanges. With these new air blown cables, it means we no longer need to pull in a few hundred metres at a time.

Getting new larger fibre count cables through busy city centres where access is difficult and where ducts are already often nearly full is a real headache for our operational teams. We expect this cable to take a lot of their pain away. All this means we will be able to build our big fibre spine networks to support Full Fibre ambitions more quickly and more efficiently.”

The Air-Blown Wrapping Tube Cable™ (AB-WTC) itself has been created by Fujikura Europe, while the cable blowing machine (Tornado) comes from CBS Products. Apparently the latter machine can blow (and install) up to 60 metres of fibre per minute.

Openreach said they plan to scale-up the trial with a further deployment in other parts of the United Kingdom, before running an invitation to tender later this year.

Fujikura’s Summary of the Benefits

* Improved packing density & flexibility – cable diameters are much more economical on duct space and higher fibre counts can be achieved. Previously we have only been able to blow cables containing up to 276 fibres. As we build bigger and bigger fibre networks to support the roll out of FTTP to the cities we need to install higher fibre count spine cables to our exchanges of 432 fibres and above, but these can only be pulled in a few hundred metres at a time.

* The new air blown 432 fibre version of this cable is small in diameter (9.3mm) which means we can get more fibre installed when there is restricted duct space.

* With the air blown cable we are confident we can blow 2km or further through a sub duct without needing to joint, meaning cabling is quicker. We expect to joint typically around a quarter as often and when we do have to joint we can joint five times faster

* Longer lengths of cable can be accommodated on reels. This leads to greater installation efficiency

* Cables have a drier structure, meaning it is easier for engineers to handle during the installation process

* The speed of installation – when Spider Web Ribbon™ (SWR™) is used, engineers can splice 12 fibres at once. Traditional cables required fibres to be spliced individually.

* This increase in installation speed leads to a reduction in disruption to the general public on Highways and footpaths

* Fujikura has worked closely with Openreach to develop a range of cables that provide the benefits of SWR/WTC as described above while also being designed to be optimised for air-blown installation.

* The new higher capacity ribbonised cables are blown into underground ducting using the CBS Tornado blowing machine.

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Mark Jackson
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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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21 Responses
  1. Avatar FTTH

    Very misleading title. In no way, shape or form is this the world’s first trial of air-blown ribbon fiber cable. Bad reporter!

    • Avatar Jon Carter

      It is indeed a ‘world first’. The crucial point, which is made clear in the article, is that this is the first pilot of its kind that uses incrementally bonded ribbon cable. The new cable ‘bonds individual ultrafast fibres together in a web-like pattern that allows increased density in a cable’. This enables engineers to blow long distances without having to joint.

    • Avatar alan

      This is not a world first the company behind the cable produced it back in November/December time last year.

      The first trial using an early stage version of the cable was done at MQ Photonics Research
      Center (MQ) at Macquarie University in Australia.

      This is all on one of fujikura global sites.

      Openreach once again full of fibs.

  2. Avatar Jon Carter

    “The first trial using an early stage version” well exactly. This is not some lab trial, we’re deploying in the field.

    • Avatar alan

      “We’re deploying in the field.”

      By “we’re” i assume you mean “Openreach”.
      The story states “that they could boost…….”

      It also makes no definition between in lab or in-field trials only that you/they claim to be the “FIRST” to trial. Which is false. You/they are not “FIRST”.

  3. Avatar Jon Carter

    Alan,

    This was the very first installation of air blown incrementally bonded ribbon globally. The advantage of incrementally bonded ribbons is higher packing density, allowing much higher fibre count cables to be air blown much further without jointing. Fujikura’s air blown Spider Web Ribbon cable is the world’s first productionised cable of this type. After testing at its test facility in Adastral Park Openreach was the first telco to install this air blown incrementally bonded cable in a live network. At the time of the trial no other cable manufacturers had production quality cable of this type. Other cable manufacturers are also developing cables using similar innovative bonding technology and Openreach is leading the way by testing some of these in prototype form too.

    • Avatar alan

      It is not the first
      NOT the first air blown
      NOT the first high density cable
      NOT the first test

      You are NOT the “WORLDS FIRST” for anything to do with this product in any way shape or form
      http://www.fujikura.co.jp/eng/newsrelease/products/__icsFiles/afieldfile/2018/11/21/newsrelease20181121.pdf

    • Avatar alan

      For further reference from that link…
      “Previous ultra-high capacity optical communications demonstrations exceeding 1 Pb/s required optical fibers with more than 12 cores and diameters exceeding 0.21 mm.

      In this work, we succeeded the world’s first transmission experiment exceeding 1 Pb/s with an optical fiber having a diameter of less than 0.2 mm.

      The advantage of the smaller fiber is increased resistance to mechanical stress such as bending and pulling. It also uses the same size coating as currently deployed standard optical fibers and therefore can be easily cabled and connected. The experiment represents a big step forward towards the early implementation of ultra-large capacity optical communications.”

      Sound familiar from the above does it? Thats because they did it back in Novemeber 2018.
      They are the “WORLDS FIRST” to use fibre strands of that size.

      You will also note from that link this is nothing new at all and they have been doing fibre cables with far greater than 12 fibres per cable since 2015.

      To even suggest a company this size would not be the “FIRST” to test their own gear is utterly ridiculous.

    • Avatar Anonanonanon

      Wow, Alan be angry, the reference link doesn’t even point to the same product as discussed in the article. BT may very likely be the first in the world to trial the use of these spider web cable bundles since they won’t need special equipment to trial them, just a slightly different install procedure.

      Your reference link is regarding an ultra high density fibre construction type that would require specialist equipment (produced by University researchers say) to send and receive data across it.

    • Avatar Alan

      “BT may very likely be the first in the world to trial the use of these spider web cable bundles since they won’t need special equipment to trial them”

      Laughingly you obviously did not read the prior link or that i mentioned the company has produced such cables since 2015.

      The term “Spider Web Cable” is nothing more than a trademark to Fujikura used to describe their own brand of product. Much in the same way BT call FTTC “Infinity” or Virgin called DOCSIS “VIVID”.

      These “Spider Web Cables” from the company have been available since 2015…
      https://www.fujikura.co.uk/media/15286/FutureAccess_Catalog_2015%20FTTH_compressed.pdf?iframe=true

      Please note the DATE in that link

      I refer you to page one what makes initial reference to these cables back in 2015.

      I also refer you to page 18 of that PDF which has some of the EXACT SAME images as the link the link mentioned in the TBB news item about this. http://www.fujikura.co.jp/eng/products/optical/opticalfibers/02/2053741_12898.html

      You will also not on page 18 under features it statess
      “12 fiber mass fusion splicing”

      This is not a “worlds first” in any way shape or form.

      THis is a 12/432 fibre cable and has been available for years in various diameters, from various companies.

      The fact Openreach can not google it to see not only this company but others have sold the stuff for years or look at a 2015 catalog from the company does not make me “angry” in the slightest. I actually find it and “Openreach” media personal trying to say otherwise quite humorous.

    • Avatar RobertM

      Is this the same Jon Carter who is head of News and Content at Openreach?

      I wonder how long he has held the position, hopefully this was not also his goof of only 2 years ago…
      https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2016/02/bt-openreach-advert-wrongfully-claims-uk-invented-the-internet.html

      It frankly is amazing what their news department tries to claim at times.

  4. Avatar RobertM

    Its another Openreach world first, like their `micro` ducting
    https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2019/02/openreach-begin-first-uk-trial-of-micro-ducting-fttp-deployment.html

    Which is more like Earthquake crevasses in the ground. God only knows what its called when people manage to lay a cable in a couple of inches wide hole. Old world no doubt.

    • Avatar alan

      Yikes!!! What are their “”regular”” trench widths like? Do they just obliterate the whole pavement or road for them?

    • Avatar RobertM

      I thought the funniest thing about it was the procedure….
      Dig hole for pole
      Angry residents at pole
      Go and remove pole
      Fill in holes left by removed poles
      Dig another hole/trench which in part goes right over the place the original hole was that you filled in.

      Brings back memory’s of being a kid in the garden with my Tonka truck.

  5. Avatar Rahul

    Yet despite Openreach acknowledging that they are able to speed up their Fibre roll-out using Micro Ducting and Air-blowing Fibre they will still be slow in deploying their Fibre FTTP service across the UK!

    If they are able to now blow 60 meters of Fibre cables down a duct in only 1 minute, maybe they should consider using it as part of their Fibre First Programme instead of only using it as part of a trial!

    Openreach have nothing to lose, in fact they are already too late with their FTTP UK roll-out. This should’ve happened years ago! There’s no time to trial this experiment in Leeds only. They are going to have to start working on it now across all of their announced Fibre First cities! Otherwise they’ll fail to achieve their 2020 3 million ambition let alone 2025 or 2033.

    There is a difference between “we could” and “we will” and until the latter doesn’t happen nothing will change or give us the belief that it will happen.

    • Avatar alan

      Its nothing more than PR submitted by Openreaches Media team to every broadband site they could think of. The disappointing bit is neither of the most 2 well known sites (This one and TBB) bothered to check their claims first.

      If they had they would had discovered blowing cables of various types and diameters is nothing new and neither is 12/432 fibre cables (available in varying diameters and has been for years).

    • Avatar Rahul

      @Alan: Yes I think I have even seen previous articles of fibre blowing cables in this site before. I have been observing this site over the past few years with interest.

      This is not new, but is probably new only for Openreach testing. This announcement appears to be a stunt from Openreach to make us believe that they are really taking great initiative in rolling out their Fibre First programme. Sadly I have lost faith in Openreach, they only make great announcements and so-called discoveries on paper but will still fail to deliver on their Fibre First roll-out promise.

      I don’t think Openreach will fulfill their target in a timely framed manner unless of-course this brings some miracles. But since they are only trialing it in Leeds, by the time they start using this technique for the other areas Openreach FTTP will fall behind compared to the rest of the FTTP Altnet providers who seem to be doing a way better job than Openreach while talking less!

    • Avatar alan

      The cable tech from the company concerned is circa 2015, the disappointing thing is its not new and if Openreach actually thought it was new it shows just how far behind the game/times they are.

      Understandable why sites like this did not check, you expect claims from the UKs biggest telco to actually have merit.

      Sometimes i wonder if its done deliberately by Openreach to try to generate hype or increase share prices or if it is genuine mistakes.

    • Avatar Rahul

      I think that is exactly what it is, “hype”!
      They want us all to believe that Openreach are really going to speed up the process of their FTTP rollout. This is a way to relief the pressure from Ofcom, media, etc.

      It’s not a mistake, I also suspect it is deliberate. I think even the Fibre First programme that was announced last year is also a hype. I’m not too sure if Openreach will really achieve the 3 million target. But even if somehow they did it is still a fraction of the premises from the 14 cities announced!

      Remember that they still have to negotiate wayleave agreements in order to have the permission to lay their fibre cables. No wayleave=little deployment even if they could speed up the fibre rollout with air blowing.

      The fact that they are trialing this air blown fibre suggests that Openreach are doing this more as an experimental exercise for the first time rather than really having much first hand professional experience in deploying FTTP. Openreach’s predominant experience comes from FTTC and very little experience with FTTP. This is why when I read “trial” it doesn’t give me much confidence. For me the word “trial” gives me the impression of inexperience. They are trying to gather experience using the trial in Leeds to then be able to use that experience in the rest of the cities. This doesn’t sound too promising to me..

  6. Avatar Peter Jamieson

    Virgin media installed AFL spider web ribbon fibre last year.in a trial for our Lightning expansion program…………

  7. Avatar Peter Jamieson

    Also the micro-ducting claim is erroneous. Virgin media have been installing micro-duct in Narrow trenching (>100mm) in their FTTP roll out for years.

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