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Openreach UK Deploys New Air-Blown Ribbon Fibre Optic Cable

Thursday, September 26th, 2019 (10:03 am) - Score 9,566

Following earlier trials Openreach (BT) has today confirmed that it will proceed to deploy Fujikura’s Air-Blown Wrapping Tube Cable™ (AB-WTC), which they claim could result in a reduction of up to 80% in installation time compared with traditional cables that require fibres to be spliced individually.

At present the operator is currently in the middle of ramping-up their rollout of 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband ISP technology, which aims to cover 4 million UK premises by March 2021 (so far they’ve already covered 1.51 million premises, adding 20,000+ every week) and then there’s an ambition for 15 million by around 2025.

Meanwhile 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 (i.e. using the Fujikura Mass Fusion Splicer (70R+)), rather than having to do them individually.

The design also creates additional space in the cable, which means they can fit more than 432 fibres into small diameter cable sheaths. These cables can be used to feed large areas from Openreach’s telephone exchanges and they may also be “blown” into underground ducting by using compressed air (utilises duct space more efficiently), which is always faster than manual pulling (note: blown fibre itself is now quite common).

NOTE: Within Openreach’s network it only takes 1 fibre to serve 32 FTTP connections.

The new deal also includes a contract for the supply of Mass Fusion Splicers and associated accessories.

Openreach Chief Engineer, Andy Whale, said:

“We want to get full fibre broadband to as many homes and businesses across the UK as we can, and as fast as possible.

To do that we need the right conditions to invest, but we also need to reduce our own costs and cut down the time it takes for our engineers to build the network without compromising quality.

We can do that using innovative tools, techniques and network components like Spider Web Ribbon fibre cable. Its small compact size makes it perfect for using space that’s at a premium in our underground ducts. It’s also more flexible and easier to work with – so our engineers can splice multiple fibres at once – saving time and money.

This technology, along with numerous other innovations we’re developing across our network build, will support our plan to reach four million households with full fibre by the end of March 2021.”

Toshitane Nakatsuji, MD of Fujikura Europe, added:

“SpiderWeb Ribbon is a truly innovative technology that has already been proven to deliver important efficiencies and savings for our customers around the world. We are very happy that Openreach has decided to take advantage of this technology. Our new AB-WTC cables and our 70R+ splicer are leading edge products that will help Openreach significantly reduce the cost per home of building its FTTP network.”

The press statements make this sound like it’ll have a huge impact, although Openreach hasn’t provided any like-for-like comparisons with their own existing methods (generalised % figures don’t tell us much) and other aspects of such work (e.g. digging up streets) tend to still be the primary time hogs.

We should point out that other operators are also taking a similar approach. Nevertheless anything that helps to improve the rollout pace of FTTP is to be welcomed.

Leave a Comment
20 Responses
  1. Avatar Declan M says:

    That’s amazing that it only takes one strind of fiber to supply 32 connections.

    1. Avatar SimonHayterUK says:

      A single fibre can handle over 40gbit/sec, and more in the right conditions and technology.

    2. Avatar JamesP says:

      I have often wondered what the maximum theoretical limits of a single strand of fibre are but I guess it’s only limited by the technology sending/receiving the light signals!

      Is it just one wavelength of light sent through the cable? or many different wavelengths?

    3. Avatar A_Builder says:

      @JamesP

      How much you can get down one fibre is quite nuanced.

      You can easily get 40GB down a single fibre doing nothing fancy.

      You can then use different frequencies to essentially multiple that by how ever many times you can accurately frequency split the lights without cross bleed (of light frequency) or attenuation.

      The issue being that it is one thing using a series or narrow band (light frequency) diodes at one end to light the thing but you do need to unpick it all at the other end.

      There are limits to this approach as the fibres are not truly lossless, particularly older fibres. And particularly at the edges of the frequency spectrum – down to various impurities. But it has allow co use of existing fibres and massive gains in bandwidth just by changing kit at either end.

  2. Avatar SimonHayterUK says:

    The 70R+ splicer was released over 6 years ago, and BT spinning it as new technology. Truth of the matter, is BT should have started planning and installing FTTP/FTTH over a decade ago. Now we have all these new start-ups because BT not investing in long-term solutions, but rather short-term, just enough to keep up with Virgin. They have wasted millions on g.FAST which is not the answer, Fibre is Fibre, its not Fibre to the cab.

    1. Avatar TheManStan says:

      Shouldn’t there be lots of well established ISPs with FTTP networks that should have taken advantage of no competition when BT wasn’t allowed to invest in FTTP infrastructure?

    2. Avatar cdh1981 says:

      Oh dear.

    3. Avatar beany says:

      Yes i think this is the same as
      https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2019/02/openreach-uk-in-worlds-first-trial-of-air-blown-ribbon-fibre-cable.html

      Where they claimed they were the the worlds first, rather funnily after reading the comments on that news item and the links dispelling that myth which it appears Openreaches Head of News and Content tried to insist it was.

    4. Avatar Graycoll says:

      Reading the article, Openreach do not say this is new technology, just the approach they intend to take among other options. It is innovative in the UK market as I’m not sure other network providers are using, even though the tech is a few years old. I’d spend a bit more time reading before jumping on the usual negative bandwagon.

    5. Avatar Go away says:

      That link provided clearly says “Openreach UK in World’s First Trial” LIARS.

  3. Avatar Jake says:

    All this is extremely exciting. Except for when I saw OpenReach will be installing it.

    My excitement has disappeared as they will simply make us all wait 10-15 years while they either squabble like the House of Commons or hold Telco’s and everybody else to ransom, somehow ludicrously expecting third parties to fund the expansion of their own network.

    1. Avatar beany says:

      The cable tech it appears is already several years old and been used by others for some time.

  4. Avatar Anthony says:

    Id’ like to know how they plan to reach areas where homes are so spread out, mine for example. We don’t have mains drainage, gas or street lighting. The only service to come underground is water. These ducts are full to bursting with silt and other objects. Blowing fibre 3 miles from the DSLAM to my home is a huge task in itself and a costly one at that.

    1. Avatar Joe says:

      If they aren;t many houses you may be 4/5g for a long time

    2. Avatar john aspinall says:

      Fibre is blown through a protective plastic conduit not directly up the duct

    3. Avatar DL says:

      The same way your copper line comes in: overhead, strung via poles.

    4. Avatar Scott M says:

      There are viable technologies around that enable placement of the fibre duct (namely microduct) inside the water pipe that feeds your house.

      This is available for mains pipes as well as down to the circa 20mm OD pipe that serves your house. All of this without detriment to the water pressure, and or quality of the water supply. All components are tested and proved water safe by WRAS.

      Non invasive, simple and quick, with minimal disruption.

      What the government and water companies need to do is open up this space, monetize it and then everyone will benefit.

    5. Avatar Nick Brennan says:

      Openreach can deploy FTTP over their existing pole infrastructure in the harder to reach rural areas without any disruption to the local community. This also applies to any area where an existing copper pair is provided via a pole.

    6. Avatar SuperFast Dream says:

      All valid statements. It does make me wonder why OR are dragging their heals in deploying FTTP to the areas they class as ‘hard to reach’ though, or should that state ‘not business viable’ or ‘waiting for the USO pot to open up’!

    7. Avatar Jim Porter says:

      But what happens if continuous fibre is installed in water pipe then pipe needs replacing?

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