Google Fiber says microtrenching accelerates fiber installation, minimizes community disruption

Google Fiber says microtrenching will accelerate fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) deployments while minimizing disruptions to local residents.

Microtrenching is a method that allows Google Fiber and other providers to carve shallow grooves in the ground to deploy fiber. Leveraging solutions from vendors like Ditch Witch or Vermeer, the microtrencher has a blade which makes a narrow cut between the road and the curb. Another machine is then used to vacuum the dirt.

After the shallow trench is dug, Google Fiber will then deploy conduit and using a polymer seal over the top of it. This method would reduce fiber installation costs.

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“The goal here is to make it an experience that folks find to be a day or two out of their life and we’re gone, and the next conversation they have with us is that the service is available and you can sign up,” said Mike Leddy, manager of network deployment and operations with Google Fiber, in a KXAN article. “This enables us to move much faster through the neighborhood and also to have a much lower impact to the residents in the area that we are building.”

Leddy said that by using microtrenching, Google Fiber cut the installation time for 50 homes from a month to one day.

Minimizing disruption

For local residents, the real value in microtrenching means they won’t be disrupted by having their lawns torn up or other issues.

Several communities in Austin, Texas, and Charlotte, North Carolina, have complained that careless errors by Google Fiber contractors severed gas lines and caused flooding.

A number of South Austin residents reported earlier this year that gutter socks used by MasTec during construction caused their neighborhood to flood.

Before the advent of microtrenching, Google Fiber said it had to dig 3 feet underground where they would run into various utility lines including gas, water, wastewater and even electricity.

Microtenching is just one of a series of methods Google Fiber has been experimenting with to minimize disruption to residents where it is building FTTP services.

In 2012, Google Fiber filed a patent for a fiber deployment method and device that could allow it to rapidly connect homes to its FTTP network in Kansas and Missouri without having to dig trenches in the yards of subscribers.

The service provider developed a narrow edging strip similar to decorative wall molding that would conceal fiber run from demarcation points in streets to subscriber homes.

Google Fiber said in the patent application at that time that "the edging device may have decorative color or pattern on the outside surface for aesthetic purposes.”

Telcos see value

Google Fiber is hardly alone in using microtrenching to accelerate FTTP network rollouts.

Large telcos like AT&T and CenturyLink have also been using some form of microtrenching in markets where they are rolling out FTTP services.

In Seattle and Minnesota, CenturyLink has been trialing a method it co-developed with the University of Louisiana where it cuts a shallower-than-usual trench in the edge of a roadbed, deploying conduit and using a polymer seal over the top of it. The telco said that this method would reduce fiber installation costs.

However, CenturyLink has not revealed the results of its initial microtrenching trials or whether it will use the method in other markets.

Having set a goal of bringing FTTP services to 67 markets, AT&T likewise sees value in microtrenching as a tool for service deployments.

While there has been a lot of talk about microtrenching being a new FTTP installation breakthrough, the telco told FierceTelecom in a previous interview it has been using the method for over a decade.

In particular, the telco has found value in using microtrenching in markets like Malibu, California, where the city sets limits on opening up streets to utilities, for example. As it expands its FTTP network, AT&T is looking at using microtrenching on a case-by-case basis.