Big Orange Spools Everywhere

What are they for?

Author: Julie Foster - MarCom/Wednesday, May 18, 2016/Categories: Business Internet

You may have noticed in the past few years that there are many construction crews operating down the sides of your local highways, roads, and streets.  They normally have a mini excavator, perhaps a Ditch Witch, or what is referred to as a horizontal boring machine that looks like a drill-rig with the drill at an angle.  They also normally have a truck or trailer in tow holding large spools of plastic pipe.  This pipe is called conduit, and comes in many colors, serving as a guide to those who operate excavating equipment.  The color of the conduit tells those who come across it what is inside the pipe. 

Here is what those colors signify:

  • Red – Electrical
  • Yellow – Gas (flammable)
  • Orange – Communications
  • Green – Sewer or drain lines
  • Blue – Drinking water
  • Purple – Reclaimed water or irrigation
  • Pink – Temporary for unidentified facilities
  • White – Proposed route

Now why should you care about this and why am I bringing it up in a blog article that is supposed to be about technology? Well, we should all care about the orange conduit that delivers communications, and what it means for our business. In the last few years, that conduit is being installed to carry fiber-optic cables. 

If you live in a rural area, especially in areas within the Mountain Standard Time Zone, you may be familiar with the struggle to gain access to broadband internet service; and all too often in metropolitan areas as well. The majority of the United States is covered with either DSL services that are provided over a traditional copper phone line, or cable-based services that are delivered via a different type of copper cable.

The issue with copper is in how it works. Basically, you can think of a copper line as a very long antenna. The communication is transmitted in microwaves (not the one you reheat your left-overs in) – the same as what you receive on your AM or FM radio, smartphone, Bluetooth, or WiFi card in your laptop. The copper allows the microwave signal to be transmitted over longer distances than it could through the air because it does not have to deal with blocks such as trees, hills, water, or walls to get in the way of the signal. The copper simply guides the wave from the telephone or cable company equipment to your home or business. The problem with copper is that it can only carry so many microwaves across its surface before the waves start bumping into each other. This is called interference and it happens because the receiving end can’t pick out the wave it needs to “hear” from the ones around it. It’s similar to attempting to carry a conversation in a noisy room. You hear everything, but have trouble picking out the voice of the person to whom you are listening. 

With fiber-optics, however, we are dealing with light waves instead of microwaves. We won’t dig too far into the physics, but trust that the speed of light is much faster via higher frequency than the speed of a microwave. The glass strand that is in a fiber-optic cable does the same for light that the copper cable does for the microwave – it guides it from the light source, to the eye that needs to see it. Fiber allows us to bend light. The other interesting aspect of light is that different colors mean slightly different frequencies, allowing us to send much more information much faster over a single strand of glass. 

I understand that was a lot of technical information to absorb. The bottom line is that we do not yet know the limit to how much data can be sent across a single strand of fiber. It depends on how fast the light can blink and how quickly the on/off cycle can be detected and turned back into information. Optical fiber can presently transmit 15.5 terabits of data per second over a distance of 7,000 kilometers. Translation? It would take approximately 25 seconds to send the entire iTunes catalogue from the sunny beaches of Florida to the bustling streets of London. However, it doesn’t stop there as there are new electronics being tested and perfected that will increase this rate without having to replace the fiber itself. This geek is amazed!

The construction crews you see on our roadsides are working to better connect your business and community as a whole to the world. In the age of instant information, fast access to data is what is setting communities apart. Anything that we don’t already know, we can find and learn in just a few moments through the power of our communication networks.  Fiber is starting to become financially feasible even for smaller companies, and it’s changing the way businesses operate. Schools, medical facilities and public safety entities are getting connected. It is happening and things are about to get interesting!


About the Author:

Patrick Malley is an Account Executive for Consolidated Communications in Duluth, Minnesota where he grew up with his wife.  Today they enjoy raising their two children in the community that fatefully brought them together. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science from St. John’s University and has been in the Commercial ISP industry since 2003. Pat’s passion for communications is fueled by a desire to expand access to broadband to the more rural, unserved and underserved areas of our nation.

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