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Preparing Utility Workers for Rapid Fiber Growth

By: Randy Rupp, Vice President of Product Strategy 

Internet users are demanding instantaneous, high-speed internet connections more than ever. Due to this growing trend, fiber installation is rapidly increasing as carriers scramble to bring fiber-optic cable connections directly to homes, businesses, government facilities and educational institutions across the country.

In North America alone, fiber connections to the home hit record growth between 2014 and 2016—and demand for quicker data delivery shows no sign of slowing down. Planning for new developments and nonresidential facilities will require fiber connectivity to push the potential growth of this market far into the future.

For the utility industry, a high demand for fiber installation is putting more contractors on jobsites. Working with tight turnaround times, effective and efficient technology plays a large role when deploying cable across diverse terrains from rural to urban environments.

Tackling rough and rural landscapes

Fiber-optic cable is largely distributed underground in a protective conduit. Starting from a central location, the fiber network includes long-haul routes between cities and towns, backbone fiber lines, and the shared miles of fiber that multiple individual properties use when connecting to the backbone.

Although equipment sizes vary depending on whether a contractor is working on a long-haul project in open areas or doing backbone work closer to the city, plowing and horizontal directional drilling (HDD) are common on these jobsites. The exact machine or tool to use largely depends on surface and soil conditions.

While a long-haul jobsite has few surface and underground obstructions, plows are often preferred. This method is often the fastest and most efficient way for placing long-haul conduit in the ground in varied terrain. To improve maneuverability on level and uneven terrains, the Ditch Witch RT125 quad with a plow attachment benefits from a quad-track ground drive system and is available with optional reel carrier attachments to hold conduit.

Long-haul jobsites that include rough terrain, wooded areas, water crossings or other areas where plows cannot operate are best suited for directional drills. The units can help meet a project’s timeline by providing the capability to bore under obstacles. In tough soil conditions or rock, the Ditch Witch All Terrain (AT) technology is specifically designed for drilling precision, control and efficiency in solid rock, fractured rock or other hard, underground conditions.

The compact, last mile

Though plows and directional drills remain popular when connecting a shared fiber line to an individual premise, urban environments create unique issues for utility contractors. Utility placement beneath city streets is more congested, and unpredictable surface obstacles are more prevalent. In addition, these areas are often more compact, making equipment size an important factor in residential fiber drop-work.

Utility contractors are increasingly turning to microtrenching solutions for fiber jobs in these congested urban environments where a less-disruptive method of installation is required.  Microtrenching is paving the way as a leading, cost-effective solution for installing fiber-optic cable along paved rights-of-way. Unlike traditional installation methods, microtrenching cuts a narrow, shallower trench – deep enough to get under the upper layer of solid ground, but shallow enough not to interfere with existing utilities.

Neighborhoods and businesses often are not built in a straight, easily-navigable line, so maneuverability has been a contributor to the popularity of microtrenching. The Ditch Witch MT16, for instance, can swing up to 6 degrees in each direction for a tighter-cut radius, enabling operators to efficiently cut on a street corner or around a cul-de-sac.

Vibratory lawn plows are also a more common piece of equipment on residential, fiber-installation jobs. These compact machines provide low ground pressure, minimizing ground disruption to homeowner lawns.

Several solutions exist to help utility contractors deploy fiber from its source to the cities and towns that require connectivity. The Ditch Witch organization provides the most dedicated suite of solutions to support the deployment of underground fiber installation, from directional drills and large plows to vibratory plows and microtrenchers. 

For more information on Ditch Witch fiber solutions, please visit