Answering utility contractors’ common questions about fiberoptic cable installation

Demand for broadband and faster network speeds coupled with funding in the recent Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to upgrade fiberoptic cable networks has many contractors expanding their business.

You may be familiar with directional drills, vibratory plows and even microtrenchers for undergrounding fiberoptic cables or for installing other types of utilities. But you may still have specific questions about the best way to maximize your efforts.

Here are responses to a few of the common fiberoptic cable installation questions that the Vermeer team often hears.

What should I consider prior to starting the installation process?

Proper planning and preparation are essential to success in fiberoptic cable installation. You need to establish the proper protocols and then choose the most efficient installation process. Before work can begin, you need to take the proper precautions. This means locating all other utility lines that currently exist on the site. An important step is to make sure all existing utilities in the area have been marked, which is done by calling 811 in the United States. Utility companies will typically send technicians out to mark underground utilities within a couple of days. Even after the underground utilities are marked, a utility locator helps locate and expose the existing utilities before the installation process begins.

The Vermeer Verifier G3 utility locator can help you assess where the lines are. Having a separate crew verifying and daylighting utilities can help with the overall workflow, keeping the project moving. The Vermeer locator combines trusted precision with a user-friendly interface.

What installation method should I consider using?

Most utility companies request contractors to bury fiberoptic cable between 4 feet to 6 feet (1.2 m to 1.8 m) deep, but short drop connections to homes and businesses may be very shallow. Making the decision between trenchless and open-cut methods is dependent on above-ground obstacles and soil conditions. Horizontal directional drilling is usually employed in urban areas where digging may cause extensive restoration work and may be inconvenient. In more rural areas, open-cut methods like using a vibratory plow to install fiberoptic cable is an efficient solution because there is minimal ground disturbance, and it is fast compared to other options.

In more challenging grounds like rock, trenching may be the more efficient option for installing fiberoptic cable. And if conduit needs to be buried in an area with other underground infrastructure, you may need to hydrotrench.

What size horizontal directional drill is best suited to fiberoptic cable installation?

Choosing the correct HDD depends on several factors, including the distance the fiberoptic cable is going to be installed, the diameter of the installation and the room available to correctly set up the equipment. What is the width available on the site? What is the length? What is the setback distance required?

Often the auxiliary equipment requirements are overlooked. When you go from a small drill to a medium drill to a larger drill, you’re potentially looking at a larger truck, a higher capacity trailer, a different mix system and a different size crew.

If your drill does not fit in the space, you must sit back farther, so your pay length is going to be the same, but you are going to have to drill farther. The power to footprint ratio is important. You want the most power in the smallest footprint possible when bidding on different jobs.

In open areas, larger drills, like the Vermeer D24x40 S3 HDD and above, are usually used along rivers or highway crossings. In urban areas, smaller drills like the Vermeer D10x15 S3 HDD or D20x22 S3 HDD are a good fit. If you’re not sure what size drill you should be using, give your local Vermeer dealer a call. They can walk you through your options.

What role do ground conditions play in vibratory plow selection?

Ground conditions are a key consideration with any open-cut installation. Rocky ground conditions may require you to switch to a rock saw or a larger trencher. Sizing a plow is not just about the length of the installation, the ground conditions also play a role. Hard ground is going to require a bigger unit.

Ground pressure is also a consideration when working in challenging conditions such as wet ditches or soft underfoot. Quad tracks provide an option for traction and stability to help keep production moving.

When is a vibratory plow the best choice?

Many of the same questions that you need to ask prior to HDD jobs also apply to plowing in product. What is the product size? What is the minimum depth? Do you need to cross driveways and roads? You may need to consider a mix of plowing and drilling.

Smaller plows can be an ideal option to place product in tight spaces and backyards if you do not have to work around existing utilities.

With the recent Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, there is going to be a growing emphasis on fiberoptic cable installations to more rural communities. In many cases, operators choose to plow their fiberoptic cable lines instead of drilling them when there is not a concern about getting under or above existing utilities. Plowing in the fiber can prove cost-effective in these situations.

In rural areas and in long runs in the city, tractors like the Vermeer RTX750 and RTX1250i2 ride-on tractors are used to plow. When it comes to the city and urban environments, smaller plows like the Vermeer SPX25 vibratory plow/trencher are more common.

What is microtrenching and when is it a good option?

Microtrenching is a technique where a very narrow trench is cut into the street surface — usually close to the seam — where the road meets the curb. Once the utility line is laid, a grout or epoxy compound is used to fill the trench. The seam is then sealed, which helps protect the utility line while restoring the integrity of the road surface.

To perform the work you need a tractor like the Vermeer RTX550 ride-on tractor outfitted with an MTR12 or MTR16 microtrencher attachment. You will also need a vac system with at least 900 cubic feet per minute (25.5 m3/min) of suction, like the Vermeer LP SGT vacuum excavator.

Microtrenching is becoming increasingly popular in cities as right-of-ways are getting more crowded. It is an ideal option if the cut for the product installation needs to be narrow and rather shallow. This technique excels when you know most of the material being cut is an asphalt-based product, and it performs very well in small, tighter radius installations.

What is hydrotrenching and when should it be used?

Contractors have recently started exploring hydrotrenching in areas where there is a high congestion of utilities, and you only need to install a short distance. The vacuum excavation system is already on site. If there is capacity in the debris body, it often makes sense to connect the two pits using the vacuum excavation system without having to transport other equipment to the job site.

Where should I turn for advice?

To set yourself up for success, you need to examine the physical location where the work is going to be performed and develop a plan that uses the most efficient process for your location, ground conditions and overall objective. Keep in mind that larger machines generally favor uninterrupted applications where you can let them run, while smaller machines typically excel in curb-to-house installations. Reach out to your Vermeer dealer to help identify the most efficient solution for your unique application.

Vermeer Corporation and Vermeer MV Solutions, Inc. reserve the right to make changes in product engineering, design and specifications; add improvements; or discontinue manufacturing or distribution at any time without notice or obligation. Equipment shown is for illustrative purposes only and may display optional accessories or components specific to their global region. Please contact your local Vermeer dealer for more information on machine specifications.

Vermeer and the Vermeer logo are trademarks of Vermeer Manufacturing Company in the U.S. and/or other countries. © 2022 Vermeer Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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