A walk in a fibre wonderland - pictures of FTTP roll-out in Lingfield
Lingfield is one of 13 villages where FTTP is being widely rolled out commercially as part of a trial to look at some of the differences compared to what has already been learnt in the much more urban parts of the Fibre First programme to date.
On Monday 2nd December 2019 we had the opportunity to visit the East Grinstead and Lingfield telephone exchanges and see how the build in the village is progressing.
We will try to take you through the journey from the headend exchange in East Grinstead to a manifold, with some pictures and a variety of notes. An important point to make is that construction of the various elements can happen in any order, which can mean people see the fibre manifold on the telephone pole but may be waiting for other invisible parts of the fibre to get joined up.
A little history on Lingfield the fifteen cabinets delivering VDSL2 services were delivered via gap funding in conjunction with Surrey County Council between 2014 and 2017, some of the outlying premises also have FTTP already available via the BDUK gap funding.
- East Grinstead is the head end exchange and the FTTP being built in Lingfield is connected to a new Nokia headend.
- The fibre route into Lingfield is around 8km and the work to get the spine connected up ready for a couple of thousand premises was done on Rememberance Sunday when the roads were closed.
- duct camera, which is useful for proving assessing what is causing a duct blockage or helping installers running spine or local fibre to guide fibre through a restricted gap.
- We have finally seen some of Fujikura fibre ribbon cable and it actually makes more sense in real life than the stylised product photos. For those with no known plan for FTTP we recommend not looking at this photo of hundreds of fibres. Each 12 fibre bundle naturally sit in a flat profile, with very small plastic elements holding each fibre to its neighbour, but these are flexible so that you can spread the 12 fibres into what looks like a very delicate piece of chicken wire mesh. Splicing 12 fibres at once sounds very difficult, but in reality with the colour coding and and groves in the fusion splicer lining the 12 fibres to meet the identical 12 in another piece is relatively easy. When we last spliced some fibre it was a single fibre and you had to line it up on the fusion splicer, but the new splicers have a removable magnetic tray that you clamp the fibres into and this sits on magnetic lugs before splicing. Other tools that allow the 12 coloured plastic outers to be stripped via a heating tool in one go make things quicker too.
The table of demo goodies deserves a few words, starting at the bottom of the picture and working up there is:
- An 8 port fibre manifold with its fibre that can be run overhead or underground.
- Orange bag with fibre cleaner and micro-scope. All the Openreach and contractor teams should have one of these to ensure that when the connectorised fibres are connected that everything is clean and that under normal circumstances no-one should have to touch that connector again for decades.
- Closure clamp for fibre splitter
- Fibre splitter tray
- Fibre splitter
- 32 way optical splitter this is the heart of the fibre splitter, it takes one fibre in and uses prisms to split the light into the larger fibre count.
- Creep preventer (more on this later).
- The yellow tube is not the real thing, but Openreach has a new hardened plastic wrap that can be added to overhead fibre cables that go through tree branches, and this increases the life span by an order of decades, i.e. stops abrasion from branches
- hollow pole manifold some areas have metal or fibre glass poles and this style of manifold is used on these as it can sit inside the pole with the fibre connectorised fibre drop then exiting the top of the pole.
- pole with fibre joint and creeper this pole in Newchapel road, has a fibre joint housing and a fibre creeper mounted. The purpose of the fibre creeper is to avoid the differential in expansion and contraction between the overhead fibres outer and glass inner putting stress on fibre splices over the years, hence why they are such a commom feature. Not pictured but at the top of this pole is a manifold. The plastic enclosure on the right is a copper joint.
- The use of a metal guard at ground level to protect the fibres is nothing new, but most of them have been in place for decades protecting the copper cables so nice to see a brand new one.
- Expander plate for multiple manifolds now exist so for poles that are crowded 2 or 3 manifolds can be fitted. In the past the FTTP roll-out did not always fit enough manifolds to handle all the existing premises on a distribution point, but for some time now the builds are working to a 120% rule, therefore every existing property should have a manifold available for the day they do order a FTTP service.
- The counting of properties can be seen in this picture which has two different size manifolds installed. There is a problem though as two ports have their weather caps removed and therefore are going to be very dirty and need cleaning prior to use or may be rendered useless depending on how long through winter they are open to the elements.
- In Lingfield there is a mixture of overhead and underground infrastructure, generally the fibre splitters like this one in Lincolns Mead are underground, but the pole mounting in green metal enclosures may happen if needed.
- While 4 and 8 port manifolds are the most common, there is a 12 port version and larger is on the way. This manifold is in Lincolns Mead where the properties all have underground ducting, one blue rope was installed in this chamber, but as the builds continue here and elsewhere residents may have people leafleting/knocking on the door to seek permission to pre-install the draw rope so that on the day of installation running in the fibre length of fibre is easy. Its pretty simple, since once you've got the permissions a team can arrive and add all the draw ropes in one visit and also deal with any blockages that may arise in peoples gardens - thus avoiding an install which fails. It also has the effect of letting people know that FTTP is on its way and will get people chasing with providers as to when they can order.
- Not all the manifolds need to be fed by underground fibre, near The Cage and tattoo shop there is a pole which is fed by overhead fibre, the obvious difference to the old overhead copper is the strain relief which rather than twisting onto a metal retainer uses a clamp and a carabiner.
- The last picture and one of the new tricks Openreach has is what it calls slippery fish optical cable. The profile of the Corning cable is relatively flat and the sheathing apparently makes it easier it get through tight gaps in ducting.
We did see a light test on the manifold in Lincolns Mead proving that the fibre is lit but as yet the area rolled out in Lingfield to date is not open to orders, so for locals it is keep checking. Of the 13 villages in the 50,000 FTTP trial Kentford (EAKEN) is the one with the most ready to order FTTP built that we know about today.