There will be no need to dig trenches and excavate copper cables in order to replace them with fibre optics, if a new technology introduced to South Africa yesterday takes off.
Kabel-X Middle East & Africa, a subsidiary of Kabel-X PLC, has opened an office in South Africa to service the African region. The company also announced a system for replacing underground copper cables with fibre optic cables without the need to excavate.
The technology can save telecommunications, power supply and railway operators to substantial costs, while replacing copper at five times the speed of the conventional method of digging.
Official figures show there is over 100-billion metres of buried copper cable around the world, most of it having been laid between 20 years and 100 years ago.
Of this network, it is estimated that some 30% to 50% will ultimately be converted from a copper base to a fibre optic base – that's up to 50-billion metres to be converted.
"We believe that in a country of South Africa's size there are about 160 000 kms of copper cable and at least 50 000 km of it must be upgraded to fibre optic if government is going to deliver on its various e-government initiatives," says Iain Giffen shareholder, director and regional CEO of Kabel-X Middle East & Africa.
Pressure from volume of traffic on both fixed-line and mobile penetration means that current cable infrastructure in South Africa needs to be upgraded as a matter of urgency, he adds. The so-called last mile – which connects the fibre optic network to homes and offices – also needs to be upgraded.
This will ultimately bring cheaper, high speed broadband into the home and a host of other data hungry services such as video and music download, Voice over IP, High Definition TV, online- gaming and video conferencing.
According to Giffen, up to 80% of the total costs of upgrading existing copper cables to fibre lies in high construction costs.
Kabel-X's technology could reduce these costs substantially and minimise disruption considerably.
Conventional technology requires the ground to be excavated in order to remove the old copper cable before laying the new fibre optic cable. The cost of such excavation is high in rural and urban environments. In addition to the high costs, excavation is time consuming, requires complex planning permissions, and is disruptive to traffic.
"An additional benefit particular to South Africa is the huge cost to government of cable theft: by upgrading to fibre optic technology (which is substantially cheaper than copper) government will reduce not only the cost to replace cable, but cost savings from downtime and lost revenues. Finally, government will be able to utilize old copper cables to generate further revenue."
The Kabel-X process uses manholes as service points to access the copper cable. A patented bio-degradable lubricating fluid is injected under pressure into the existing cable, between the outer armoured cable jacket and the inner cable core.
This process frees the copper core from its protection jacket and causes it to 'float' within the bio-degradable lubricant. The copper core is then 'dragged' out of the jacket and the micro ducts for the replacement fibre optic cables are pulled in at stretches of up to 400 metres.
The process also offers environmental advantages as the copper can be 100% recycled and the lubricating fluid, which is 100% biodegradable is EPA-approved.
Kabel-X has successfully implemented the technology for companies such as Deutsche Telecom, Swiss Com, Siemens, Telekom Austria, UPS, at power suppliers, railway operators, recycling companies and even military authorities in Europe.
"By making fibre optics accessible to the end user, the Kabel-X process eliminates bottlenecks in data delivery in the simplest and most effective way. We look forward to extending these benefits to the African region," adds Giffen.