Beware The Long-Term Maintenance Cost of Micro-trenching

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Here’s who is – and isn’t – using micro-trenching for their fiber builds.

Fiber rollouts are ramping up across the U.S., but the way companies are planning to get their infrastructure deployed varies. Of course, there are the traditional aerial and boring methods, but some are also opting for a technique called micro-trenching. Proponents of micro-trenching claim it allows them to move faster and cause less disturbance to residents in the communities they’re building to. But others are steering clear of the approach, citing long-term maintenance issues, among other things.

Micro-trenching refers to the practice of cutting thin channels about 1 to 3 inches wide and 6 to 24 inches deep into roadways and other rights-of-way in which to lay fiber. Once the cable is installed, the channels are backfilled with asphalt or another matching filler material. Gary Bolton, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) told Fierce such trenches are able to accommodate up to 2,000 strands of fiber. In a blog from November 2021, Ting Internet noted micro-trenching teams can lay as much as 3,000 feet of conduit per day, compared to around 500 feet using traditional construction methods.

The approach is nothing new. Back in 2016, AT&T touted fiber as a key part of its FTTH installation process, telling Fierce at the time that the approach had been an industry standard for the past decade. Frontier Communications (pre-bankruptcy) and Google Fiber also talked up micro-trenching the same year. And Bolton noted micro-trenching has been used for rollouts in major cities including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Nashville.

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