Fiber-Through-the-Sewer Hits US

UK firm i3 is promising a cheaper way to build municipal fiber networks and is happy to ride Google's coattails

September 15, 2010

4 Min Read
Fiber-Through-the-Sewer Hits US

LAS VEGAS -- The American arm of a British firm known for deploying local loop fiber through sewers has high expectations for its chances in the US market, based on the Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)-inspired boom in municipal fiber projects. (See Google Jumps Into Gigabit FTTH.)

The company is i3 America , and it has stepped up as a platinum sponsor of the FTTH Council Conference here only weeks after announcing the first US pilot -- in Quincy, Ill. -- of its Fibrecity open access network.

Because the system is deployed in sewer systems, partnerships with municipalities and municipally owned utilities are natural for i3, which will build and operate the local loop fiber network for its partners on an open access basis, says Alasdair Rettie, technical director of i3 Group Ltd., the parent company to i3 America. The parties then either work out a revenue-sharing deal or enable the municipality to use the network for its own purposes, including providing fiber connections to schools, video security monitoring, traffic management, public safety, and/or subsidized connections into homes of low-income residents.

By using waste-water ducts to deploy fiber, i3 claims to trim 30 percent to 50 percent off the cost of deploying FTTH -- but no, the service doesn't come up through the toilet into the home, in case your mind was wandering there.

The Fibrecity network is an open-access system, based on FTTH optoelectronics from Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Enablence Technologies Inc. (Toronto: ENA), that uses i3's patented approach to running fiber through sewers or other existing duct work to a place very near the home, where the fiber is then micro-trenched to an Optical Network Terminal (ONT) that has four Gigabit Ethernet ports.

By taking an open-access approach, i3 can allow multiple service providers to address each household, offering different services.

"We encourage much more than triple play," Rettie says. "We have service providers today using IP connections to provide home security services; an applications service provider could use this to provide cloud computing; your employer could rent one of the ports to enable work-at-home. It's all about thinking outside the box."

Open APIs are built into the i3 approach -- it has tied into the APIs of Ericsson and Enablence and can offer service providers various service templates, featuring different upstream and downstream speeds, that they can then choose to offer.

i3 patented technology secures the fiber optic cable to the bottom of a sewer or other existing duct, and is actually designed to enable sediment that might normally settle there to move farther downstream, as it were.

"By working in partnership with the municipality, we will take their information about the existing pipes and put that into our GIS systems," Rettie says. "We will ask where they have problems, because we don't want to put fiber in areas where there is already an issue. Before we deploy, we will clean the sewers and do a [video survey] of the sewer lines to pick the routes we want to go, and where it's needed, we will repair the sewers."

Fibrecity is designed to use a 1-12 split for its passive optical network, versus the 1-32 split commonly used in US fiber deployments, so each household is guaranteed 100 Mbit/s symmetrically, Rettie says, with the ability to burst, possibly with a boost-button paid service, to much higher speeds.

In the UK, i3 is mostly working with cities and universities, connecting what the US government now calls "anchor institutions" such as schools, libraries, and local government units.

The advent of broadband stimulus money and the Google-driven frenzy over municipal fiber networks in the US has made this the perfect time for i3 to enter this market, says Brian Foley, VP of sales for i3 America.

"We are excited to be working with Quincy on this pilot -- the city has been extremely cooperative in moving things forward," Foley says.

After the 30-day pilot to show the efficacy of i3's system and the potential impact of the deployment on Quincy's sewer system, the expectation is that the city will move forward with deployment. Rettie and Foley won't comment on how many other projects are in the works, but they say they are discussing quite a few.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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