Innovation, experience and compliance

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Light Fibre Infrastructure (LFI) says the intricacies of ground cable laying requirements for African telecommunications projects can be handled with the right resources.  These will ensure that environmental compliance, cost containment and timely delivery are accomplished in a project.

Increase in telecommunication projects, as African countries strive to bridge the digital divide, has created a steady demand for ground cable laying systems. This ‘massive’ opportunity equally poses big challenges for service providers to ensure quality projects are delivered in accordance with environmental requirements, cost effectively and to the expected quality standards.

Experienced organisations should be able to manage this task capably, though only a few do it, the Managing Director of Lightfibre Infrastructure (LFI), Grant Naude, tells Construction Review.

“Deploying the correct design methodologies and equipment ensure environmental compliance and contain project costs.  Minimum environmental impact with maximum output is the basis of Lightfibre’s criteria when tackling any project.

“Our Staff have intimate knowledge of our equipment and the various capabilities of each, they ensure that the correct equipment and methodologies are deployed to minimise the environmental impact, reduce cost and ensure compliance,” he explains.

Each project by its own merits

The belief that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach in the ground cable laying works is nothing but a myth, Naude cautions. How, then, does one approach a client’s unique ground cable laying requirement?

Naude’s explanation is that, as cable requirements differ from client to client depending on the need for specific routes, an organisation should be equipped to install all types of sleeves and fibre cable.

Keeping abreast

In a field in which new developments pop up at the blink of an eye, international trends should be closely monitored for new installation methods and equipment to ensure that one is at the forefront of route deployment demands. Relating to Africa, this point could not have been more relevant, Naude notes.

“Organisations looking forward to playing a pivotal role in the provision of quality telecommunications to areas in Africa, which are lagging behind in ICT development should utilise their expertise in the speedy deployment of high quality low cost fibre backbones which are utilised by major Telecommunication providers. They should have sufficient multi-skilled staff with enough equipment to take on multiple phases within a large turnkey projects in order to achieve these goals.

“They should adhere to clients’ needs by significantly reducing the time to market through the use of an array of state-of-the-art machinery and equipment,” says Naude. He mentions that LFI utilises Direct Laying Spider Ploughs, Rock wheel Trenchers, a fleet of TLB’s and excavators and the latest fibre and test equipment to name a few.

Experience counts

In the rigorous field of ground cable laying, there is no substitute to relevant experience. Thus, Naude believes that the experience gained in the successful deployment of over 2,000 km of fibre in Africa and staff which have collectively and successfully deployed over 5,000km sets LFI apart from any other fibre deployment company.

“The state-of-art machinery and equipment also defines Lightfibre as a unique company able to offer high quality installations with minimal time to market with the added benefit of a guaranteed and cost effective deployment which ensures that LFI is an African Company suited to African requirements,” he adds.

Asked to reveal LFI’s aspirations, Naude says: “We aim to be part of delivering ICT to each and every person in Africa and thus enjoy the growth of our continent and its economy.”

Industry track record

The following projects are amongst the numerous projects that illustrate LFI’s industry track record:

·       Pretoria to Beit Bridge – 480km in just over 10 months

·       Springs to Ermelo – 198km in just over 5 months

·       Mtunzini to New Germany 158 km in around 6 months

·       LFI was the preferred contractor to relocate existing live fibre for a client in time for the road contractor to start. Direct laying Spider Plough was used with installation rates of 4km per day; and

·       Designs initiatives to install fibre through road tunnels and mountain passes which were accepted by SANRAL.

A badly-done job comes back to bite

As any organisation involved in cable laying in African countries would confess: mediocre underground cable laying job has its own way of coming back to haunt the contractor, at best, and, the client, at worst. This might take years to surface, but it is a matter of when, not if, when it will occur. And the consequences can be very costly to manage, the biggest one being financial.

While overhead cables are bare, very visible in the open, hence easy to detect and fix in the event design and installation problems surface, fixing underground cables can be quite an involving task; they can be quite “a different kind of a beast”, as the saying goes.

Imagine the cost and burden involved, if the underground cables belong to a utility organisation which expects them to have a long life cycle. In an article they have produced on the subject published in T&D World, Deepak Parmar and Jan Steinmanis,experts from US-based organisation, GeothermInc in an article, note: “Although utilities design their underground circuits for a 30-year life, improper installations often can lead to premature field failures.”

An experience they had with a half-done cable laying project more or less mirrors what is experienced in African countries as they undertake ground cable laying projects in the vast expanse of the continent. The experts recounted: “A wind-generating farm was installed with underground cables tied directly to a main feeder cable. Unfortunately, the cables were simply placed in a trench using native soil backfill with minimal soil compaction. Ampacity calculations were performed using typical soil values, but thermal properties were not measured. Since wind turbines operate almost continuously, the feeder cable often ran at maximum capacity. The heat generated from the feeder cable dried out the surrounding soil completely. Because the native soil was poorly compacted fine silt, it acted like an insulating blanket and the cable failed prematurely.”

In the main, the greatest mistake was using native soil backfill with minimal soil compaction and overlooking thermal properties. Evidently, from this description, though it refers to a wind farm, similar oversights can also be encountered in African projects.