Busy times for the cable guys
At times they have been perched high on utility poles, or down manholes dealing with cabling in underground conduits. And in many locations they worked at the roadside to meticulously splice fine strands of glass-fibre cable.
The past 11 months have been busy for technicians and crews of Digicel Bermuda and Bermuda Telephone Company, who have been visible up and down the island installing hundreds of miles of fibre-optic cabling.
The “fibre to the home” programme is part of a $50 million investment in Bermuda to upgrade the companies' telecommunications network.
The vast refit is now all but complete, and details regarding the improved internet speeds and deals on offer will soon be announced.
One Communications, the other major player in Bermuda's telecoms market, has also achieved a massive upgrade of its network in recent months. In October, One said that all of its standard internet customers had been automatically upgraded to the company's new high-speed FibreWire internet plans.
Chris Wright, head of operations at Digicel & BTC, said that it took months of pre-planning to finalise the “fibre to the home” programme before the work started.
One of the biggest challenges during the roll-out was the number of repairs needed on underground infrastructure due to the age of the materials and equipment, or to fix incidental damage caused through the years by the activities of other entities.
The project started at the beginning of the year in the western parishes before heading east in stages. This was to ensure work in the western portion of the island was completed ahead of the America's Cup event in May and June, minimising any disruption to traffic flows or the event's activities.
At the heart of the programme is the construction and installation of 400 miles of new fibre cable.
“All of the backbone and primary cabling is underground and protected from normal damage caused by accidents and hurricanes, with a mix between underground and overhead for distribution to customers,” said Mr Wright.
Additionally there will be further cabling, known as “drop cable”, to complete fibre optic installation directly into customers' homes. This will deliver faster speeds and higher service quality compared to fibre that stops at the curb and then takes the signal into a home through copper cables.
“Digicel is the only provider on the island to provide 100 per cent fibre optic cabling from the head end into the customer's living room,” said Mr Wright.
“The cable is extremely lightweight, durable and a lot smaller in diameter compared with the large sized and heavy copper cabling currently in use. The fibre is also immune to the normal damage caused by dampness, moisture and corrosion which can quickly degrade the transmission characteristics of all types of copper cabling.”
The new network is passive, which means no powering or electricity is needed for consistent signal transmission between exchange locations and the customer.
“There is no requirement for in-line signal boosters or amplifiers with Digicel's Fibre, as is necessary for other types of TV and broadband delivery systems.
“All of the Digicel exchange locations are on the Belco grid, but also have battery back up and standby generation to remain in service for days on end in the event of a major power failure.”
Describing the intricate work carried out by crews as they splice cables at roadside units, Mr Wright said the technicians were joining the ends of individual glass fibres together in a process called fusion splicing. The process can take as little as 30 minutes for four fibres, and up to 12 hours to complete a larger 144-fibre cable unit.
“This is a complex process that must be done according to very tight specifications to allow for the optimal transmission of light waves through the cable from end to end.
“The process involves stripping the outer plastic sheath from the end of the cable, cleaning the fibre with a solution, cutting or cleaving and then splicing using heat to fuse the ends of glass together.”
Once everything is in place, the new fibre should not require changing for 25 years.
Mr Wright said: “Aside from routine maintenance and damage sustained by accident of weather events, the fibre will not have to be changed out anytime within the next 25 years or more.
“Any upgrades within that period would be facilitated by changes in configurations or end equipment and only driven by new service propositions or the consumer's insatiable appetite for more and more bandwidth.”
He said the fibre to the home technology will allow customers to enjoy and reply on consistently fast speeds, adding: “Faster speeds than ever experienced here before, which is down to the best in class to the home network.
“We will be unveiling our speeds and pricing very soon and we're confident we're bringing great value to the market.”
For more information, visit www.digicelbermuda.com/fibre or go to the Digicel store on Church Street