Why Fiber Optic Micro Cables Could Soon Change Our Networks

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North America is fast learning that size matters when it comes to cable installation. Legacy conduits are becoming congested with large traditional loose tube cables. This has caused a demand for cost-effective smaller cables with higher fiber density.

In Europe, the majority of fiber optical cable is installed underground. Over the years, the region’s bandwidth demands and fiber requirements have grown rapidly, reducing the amount of free space for new cable. This led Europe to develop micro cables in the early 2000s.

North America now finds itself with a similar challenge. Of the 26.3 billion networked devices expected worldwide by 2020, 4.6 billion will be in North America. Forty-four percent of those will have mobile connectivity. Unfortunately, many network operators might be reluctant to undertake new cable deployments due to the high cost of civil works.

Enter Micro Cable

Micro cables are miniaturized standard loose tube cables that are 50 percent smaller and up to 40 percent lighter than traditional loose tube cables. While both cables perform equally, micro cables are less robust. This means they are always installed in a microduct — a small high-density polyethylene conduit. Micro cables are generally blown or jetted into microducts through air-assisted blowing machines. They can also be pulled at low tension over short distances.

These microducts are typically used to sub-divide internal duct space into smaller compartments. They are available in single or bundled options, depending on need. Multi-path bundles allow for flexible and scalable high-fiber-count, high-density cabling in new installations. Loose microducts can be installed into an empty or occupied legacy sub-duct, allowing them to optimize the existing space.

Where do we go from here?

Like in Europe, the answer for bandwidth growth in North America might be micro cables. By switching to miniaturized micro cables and microducts, operators will be able to meet short-term fiber demands. They’ll also discover unique and cost-effective deployment techniques for flexible, scalable upgrades. Micro cables also reduce the total cost of an initial build by using smaller equipment, network components and installation crews.

The true value of micro technology will be revealed upon performing a capacity upgrade. Adding more traditional loose tube capacity may require more months of excavation at great cost and lost productivity. Micro cables equal twice the cable on a transportation reel or smaller reels. This translates into lower transportation and storage costs. A capacity increase in a micro cable solution would only involve the cost to purchase and install a new micro cable into an existing, vacant microduct. This pay-as-you-grow business model is getting more attention from North American project managers, procurement managers and network operators. It that keeps up, we could soon see a major shift in the cable industry.

The opinions expressed in this piece are solely Corning's. They do not necessarily represent WESCO’s views.

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