Going for the Gold
At the close of a historically significant Olympic torch relay (the trek across Canada marks the longest relay trip across a single country ever) the Winter Olympics will begin its 80th year on February 12, 2010, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The 16-day event will include Winter sports such as speed skating, luge, ice hockey, bobsled, and other competition. Like any host city, Vancouver is expecting over a million athletes, trainers, spectators, and members of the media to converge on their city for the games. All of them will be hungry for news and information, not only from inside the Olympic complex, but also from the outside world.
The Winter Olympics officially began in 1924 when a number of cold-weather sports, like figure skating and ice hockey, were added to the Olympic games then being held in Chamonix, France. Four years later, the Olympic Committee established the Winter Olympics as a separate event. Since then the world has witnessed 20 Winter Olympics in a number of locations across the planet. Each has been subsequently larger than the last, with the number of events rising from 16 to the 86 we will see in 2010.
In preparation for the Olympics, and the expectation that revenue proceeds will exceed those of the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, which drew more than a million people, Vancouver has generated a $1 billion+ budget plan to handle the upgrades that need to be made to the city. Among the major projects included in the budget are the construction of new venues such as a stadium park, athletes’ villages, a media center, and the renovation of pre-existing facilities in both the host city of Vancouver and nearby Whistler located in the Canadian Rockies. Plans are also in place to build a new rapid transit link between Richmond (where the city’s international airport is located) and downtown Vancouver. Also included is the placement of 50-75km of fiber optic cable to link both Vancouver and Whistler to the rest of the world.
Vancouver Adopts Fiber Optics for Olymipic-Sized Needs
The International Olympic Committee, which started in 1894 when the Olympics had only summer events, requires every city hosting the Olympic Games to follow a number of infrastructure guidelines. One of the more recent additions to this list is the installation of an extensive and reliable fiber optic cable communications system. Known as The Last Mile, this fiber optic cable link connects kiosks throughout the Olympic village and elsewhere, and operates services such as ATM machines and other electronic devices. More importantly, it is also used for broadcasting all of the competitions, ceremonies, and other events taking place at the Olympics.
The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, which marked the first time that all events were broadcast in high-definition, was the most-viewed event in American broadcast history. All television coverage of those games relied on the use of an ultra-efficient fiber optic information super highway. Fiber optic cable has become a crucial component for the Olympics as it provides the link between the Olympic Games and the rest of the world.
Before you can install a fiber optic cable system underground, conduit, similar to tubes or pipes, must first be put into place. Conduit provides a safe underground housing for the delicate glass strands that compose fiber optic cable. Because fiber optic cable can easily become damaged, and splicing can be a difficult and costly process, conduit serves an important role in assuring fiber optic cable performs efficiently from one point to another.
Conventional conduit is large and rigid, and typically requires wide, deep trenches to be dug before it can be installed. This task necessitates the use of large, powerful, and often expensive machinery. The installation process is not only time-consuming but can also cause major traffic obstacles.
After conventional conduit is placed, concrete or other materials must be poured to re-seal the ground. Because conventional installation requires a wide trench opening, the finished product can often appear as an eyesore. The fresh asphalt or concrete poured to fill in these holes typically rise above street-level, creating a highly visible scar. Not only is this a visually offensive end-product, but it can also cause problems for motorists as the newly filled holes act as unintentional speed bumps and barriers.
With these issues in mind, Vancouver knew they needed an extremely reliable system of fiber optic cable that could be placed quickly and with as little disruption to the city’s infrastructure as possible. They wanted an installation process that would not hinder the additional traffic flow brought on by construction and renovation, as well as a finished product that offered seamless reinstatement to help keep their city looking beautiful. (See Figure 1.)
Figure 1. Once the slots were cut the long, thin, and flexible microduct conduit was installed.
Cable Placement Efficiency Earns a Gold Medal
In the end, Vancouver chose Bell Global as the contractor to place its fiber optic system. One reason Bell was selected was for the choice of conduit it planned to use. Bell proposed a revolutionary microduct conduit solution engineered by Lite Access Technologies (LAT) of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. LAT's microduct allowed Bell Global to avoid the lengthy, traffic-stopping construction that is usually associated with the installation of conventional conduit. Instead, LAT's microduct conduit provides a non-intrusive, economical, easily locatable, and extremely fast installation.
"At first companies were slow to adopt our technology. That's common with most new technology," said LAT President and Co-Founder Michael Priest, "but with every success we've had we've gained new customers. I think this Olympic project, because it involves a company as large as Bell Global and will be used for an event the size of the Olympics should really open a lot of eyes to the quick and reliable solutions we offer."
After being trained, contractors began work on the Olympic fiber optic project in early 2002. Canada's harsh winter months and heavy snowfall brought a pause to the project in 2008, but work picked up again in May and finished in the summer. While much of the project was split up it only took about a month of work to place the specially designed microduct and fiber optic cable.
To create the trenches, Bell used a 75-horsepower diesel-powered concrete saw with custom .5 inch (1.27 cm) to .75-inch (1.9 cm) blades. The saw quickly cut narrow .47 inch (12mm) to .67 inch (17mm) slots into existing asphalt, concrete, or other surfaces. The need for a narrow opening, as well as the use of simple equipment, meant that contractors didn't require a large area to be occupied by construction. This meant that it wasn't necessary to rope off entire intersections or city blocks. The resulting 6-12 inch (15.24-30.48 cm) deep slots didn't require much time to cut or clean, and was all that was needed to place microduct conduit.
Once the slots were cut the long, thin, and flexible microduct conduit was installed. LAT's microduct conduit is uniquely designed to safely house 2-72 strands of microfiber cable. It is also flexible enough to bend and adjust to the undulations of the terrain. They are flexible enough so that they can be placed directly from a reel much like cable placement itself. As microduct is paid off the reel from the back of a moving truck, a contractor simply places the cable into the ground with a small metal poker. This simple process can be done with a fluid, non-stop motion.
After all of the microduct was in place the slots were then quickly sealed with a mechanized caulking gun. This not only saved time, but it also saved wear on workers' backs. Contractors simply walked down the length of the slots sealing them easily. Because these slots were so small to start with, the finished product was a smooth and nearly unnoticeable line in the ground.
A television-news reporter covering the installation in Whistler noted that the finished product left behind was only "a mark you'd hardly notice walking to the ski lift." The small slots, flexibility of microduct, and lack of heavy equipment allowed the microduct to be placed up to 5 times faster than conventional conduit.
"Vancouver might want to add more fiber optic cable after the Olympics, and our microduct allows for that. We create future-proof networks that allow our customers to expand without having to install more conduit," said Priest."
Vancouver's Advanced Communications Crosses the Finish Line
Once the microduct was placed and the slots were sealed, contractors then had to place the fiber optic cable into the microduct. LAT prefers to blow fiber optic cable rather than pull it to place it. Because fiber optic cable is so fragile the friction created by pulling cable could easily damage it. By adding airflow to the process, or blowing, the level of friction is not only cut down, but the entire process is sped up. To do this, LAT turned to the Breeze Blowing Machine by General Machine Products Company (GMP). (See Figure 2.)
Figure 2. Because fiber optic cable is so fragile the friction created by pulling cable could easily damage it. By adding airflow to the process, or blowing, the level of friction is not only cut down, but the entire process is sped up.
Up to 35 pounds (15.88 kg) of pushing force and adjustable speed control are just some of the features of the Breeze. Its double-driven cable rollers provide excellent grip on micro fibers, with speed and distance readouts displayed on a digital monitor.
The role of the Breeze helped to complete the Olympic project quickly. The finished product not only met the requirements of the International Olympic Committee, but it also complies with the International Order for Outdoor Cables, Corning Fibre Standards, Optical Fibre Cable Color Coding, and is RUS approved.
Vancouver needed extremely reliable, Last Mile technology in place for the 2010 Winter Olympics. They required a system that guaranteed unhindered television coverage for a huge global audience. With the use of compact equipment, like a concrete saw and the Breeze Blowing Machine, contractors managed to avoid major obstructions that could have hindered traffic flow during Vancouver's busy Olympic preparation period. The sealed ground in Vancouver and Whistler is smooth and almost unnoticeable, leaving cars that drive over it unaffected and pedestrians unaware of its presence.
The final product of the 2010 Winter Olympics fiber optic cable project is a nearly unnoticeable and non-disruptive piece of work that can be used and added to by the city of Vancouver for years to come.
About the Author
Ted Clemens is Director of Sales for General Machine Products Company (GMP). He joined GMP in 1986 after working for 2 years for Graybar Electric in New York and Los Angeles.
GMP is a global provider of a wide range of products for the telecommunications, power utility and cable television industries, and the contractors who serve them. Product applications include the placement of fiber optic, copper conductor, and coaxial cable both aerially and underground. For more information, visit www.gmptools.com.
Lite Access Technologies Inc. is a Vancouver-based fiber optic technology organization; their unique suite of Last Mile technologies enables the end user to bridge the digital divide providing unlimited bandwidth in the most cost-effective, timely and future-proof manner. For more information, visit www.liteaccess.com/.
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