Google Fiber Hopes Subscribers Dig a Change They Are Making

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    One of the benefits that the wireless sector claims over its wired cousins is that using the air to transport signals starkly reduces the challenges and costs of wired connectivity.

    The truth of that statement doesn’t mean that the wired sector is on the point of extinction. Indeed, it is constantly seeking to make its technology less intrusive and disruptive. The goal is to moderate the image of laying cable, which generally features huge open trenches, dozens of workers, and exasperating detours extending over an extended period of time. Ripped-up lawns often are a part of the picture as well.

    KXAN in Austin, Texas, says that Google Fiber, in response to complaints from residents, is using a new approach in South Austin. Microtrenching, according to a story and accompanying video, can cut what formerly took weeks to a day or two.

    Traditional approaches involve digging trenches about three feet down. This poses two problems. This is far deeper and therefore more work intensive than is necessary, and that depth is often crowded with gas, water, wastewater and/or electricity lines.

    The innovation is microtrenching, which involves carving a far thinner and shallower slit between the road and the curb. There are four steps: A machine cuts the slit, a second machine vacuums out the dirt, workers lay in the fiber, and a machine refills the slit.  

    Another approach to avoiding the worst impact of laying cables is horizontal directional drilling (HDD). It avoids trenching altogether. HDD was described earlier this month at TrenchlessOnline and it sounds pretty cool:

    A small radio transmitter in the drilling head transmits information about the location and orientation of the drill bit’s slanted face to a crew member who walks directly above the drill head with a handheld receiving unit. Information is displayed on a screen at the top of the receiver and to a remote display at the drill machine’s operator station and provides information necessary for the driller to change direction of the bore. The drill operator makes steering adjustments by stopping rotation of the drill string, positioning the face of the bit, and pushing the bit forward. Friction with surrounding soil changing direction of the bore path.

    The piece, written by a senior product manager from vendor Subsite Electronics, says that two advances have been made in HDD. The signaling between the drill and the device held by personnel above ground is better and functionality enabling the path between where the drill is and the final destination to be anticipated has been added.

    There seems to be some confusion about names. provides its definitions of two trenchless construction techniques:

    HDD refers to a steerable system for the installation of pipes, conduits, and cables in a shallow arc using a drill rig at the ground surface. Microtunneling is a procedure that uses a remotely-controlled, relatively small diameter tunnel boring machine. One major advantage of trenchless pipeline construction is the freedom to follow the most direct route between two points if the right-of-way allows. Open-cut trench construction normally has to follow existing pipe utility easements, roadways, or other unobstructed surface alignments.

    The definition of HDD is subtly different than the one used by TrenchlessOnline, which puts most of the drilling equipment in the ground, not above. It also uses the “microtunneling” instead of “microtrenching,” which is what Google calls the process it is using in South Austin.

    The distinctions may be real or simply a function of the fact that NoDigConstruction is a German site. Nomenclature aside, it is clear that the sector that buries cables is not giving up as wireless speeds increase. Indeed, there seems to be a lot going on underground.

    Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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