Smartphones, 3G and 4G networks are everywhere, offering wireless subscribers virtually instant access to data and electronic communications from anywhere at any time.
Thanks to the scores of recently developed mobile devices and applications — as well as the introduction of new ones seemingly on a daily basis — the demand for mobile data is skyrocketing. One prominent wireless authority, RCR Wireless, projects that mobile data consumption will increase 700 percent by 2014. For their part, wireless service operators are upgrading existing infrastructure and adding new capacity to meet the current and future demands of a data-hungry world in which more and more subscribers are transferring their desktop broadband usage to mobile devices.
One of the underground utility companies helping the nation's communications leaders grow their mobile broadband capacity is the Fishel Company, based in Columbus, Ohio. The 75-year-old utility contractor specializes in water, sewer, gas, telephone and fiber optic installation. With 20 offices in 11 states, "Team Fishel" employs more than 1,000 teammates. And, like its communications partners, the Fishel team embraces new technologies in an effort to deliver the best value and on-time solutions to meet its customers' needs.
In an ongoing project to install conduit and fiber optic cable for distributed antenna systems in and around Scottsdale, Ariz., Team Fishel is utilizing the newest technology in microtrenching. And, according to Kwigs Bowen, area manager of Team Fishel's office in Chandler, Ariz., the Vermeer MTR12 microtrencher attachment enables the installation crew to place more conduit, faster and with less cost and less site disturbance than other methods.
According to Bowen, a distributed antenna system (DAS) is a hybrid of fiber optics and radio sites that allows radio frequency engineers to pinpoint signals in densely populated neighborhoods or in areas that are difficult to cover. In each DAS, low-profile antennas (AKA Nodes) are hidden on such objects as light poles or traffic signals and in Scottsdale, equipment was often placed inside artificial Saguaro Cacti no more than 24 feet (7.3 m) tall.
The fiber is fed into a box located next to the artificial cactus (or existing street light pole) and from there it connects to an jumper and optical transceiver and amplifier, which terminates at an antenna located inside the node. Like traditional cell sites, a resident makes a call transmitting to the node and then the signal is converted from RF Energy to a optical signal which is then fed to the fiber back bone and to the local service provider. DAS networks enable cell phones, laptops and other wireless devices to take advantage of increased bandwidth for faster Internet and streaming video.
Working for Crown Castle, which owns and manages large cell towers nationwide, Team Fishel is placing hundreds of miles of specially designed HDPE conduit and installing the fiber to feed a DAS network that improves the reception and bandwidth capacity of AT&T's 4G wireless network in the area. "We drill or trench, whichever method is needed to install the conduit, place the fiber and then splice the fiber to activate the antenna system," Bowen said.
Most of the work, which includes horizontal directional drilling and fiber splicing, has been in Scottsdale, where private home owner associations (HOAs) expect and demand as little disruption as possible to preserve the aesthetics of their neighborhoods.
Nearly invisible installation
Working in an upscale HOA called "Mirabel," a Team Fishel crew used the new microtrenching attachment for the first time to install about 4,000 feet (1219.2 m) of conduit between the curb and gutter, where the installation is virtually invisible. The installation "train" consisted of a McLaughlin V500LE vacuum unit out front, followed by a Vermeer RTX550 tractor and the Vermeer MTR12 microtrencher attachment with a conduit reel carrier mounted on the front of the tractor. The trenching crew laid the conduit in the trench after it was cut and vacuumed. Another crew backfilled the trench to complete the installation.