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Telus Fibre—the future may get in the way

March 14, 2016
Two VistaCare trucks blocking Hemlock entrance to the east end of the alley on the south side of the 1400 block of West Broadway Avenue.

Two VistaCare trucks, one from Ontario, block an alley off Hemlock Street.

There’s a motley collection of pickup trucks fitted with over-the-cab camper boxes, along with some bucket trucks, that are lately blocking and bottle-necking the alleys of Fairview (among other westside neighbourhoods).

The trucks represent a few different fibre-optics companies and bear licence plates from as far away as Ontario and the Maritimes. All of them are here to help the B.C. telecoms company Telus to install a brand new fibre-optic network across the city of Vancouver.

The high-fibre diet we may have to swallow for the next five years

Watch for the traffic cones and sandwich boards: "Telus: The future is in your way".

Watch for traffic cones and sandwich boards.

This appears to be the start of a five-year, $1 billion, upgrade process announced by Telus CEO Darren Entwistle four months ago—to replace the company’s entire existing copper wire infrastructure in Vancouver with an all-fibre-optic cable network.

Telus claims that this new network will ultimately handle a maximum data download speed of one gigabit per second but that initially users can expect download speeds up to 150 megabits per second—a third again faster than Telus’ current fastest download speed and 30 mbps better than competitor Shaw.

In October, The Vancouver Sun quoted Entwistle as saying (rather grandly) that the new fibre-optic network “will future proof Vancouver’s digital demands for decades to come.”

The Telus fibre-optic upgrade has two visible components:

Telus doesn't like to mess up its street access cabinets with a logo.

Telus is leaving it to others to tag the new street access cabinets.

Today (March 14) I spoke to one of the fibre-optic cable installers, who told me that the white street access cabinets that have recently been installed across Fairview are part of the Telus upgrade. These cabinets will most likely be the service control points for a number of Internet subscriber lines.

These new cabinets are noticeably smaller than the DSL street access cabinets that Telus installed back in 2007-2008.

As I understand, those cabinets control the old DSL lines that are dual phone and Internet. It’s not clear if they and their lines will be decommissioned and fully replaced by the new network, or continue their current dual service, or wired phone service exclusively.

One of the big loops of uninstalled fibre-optic cable hanging all over Fairview.

One of the loops of uninstalled fibre-optic cable hanging all over Fairview.

Secondly, service technicians are stringing the actual black fibre-optic cables high overhead through the back alleys along the lines of existing wooden utility poles.

The installer that I spoke to explained that it would be prohibitively expensive to lay the fibre-optic cable (hundreds of kilometres-worth probably) underground.

I only asked about that because I always wonder about the wisdom of putting important power and communications infrastructure on wooden utility poles, given that Vancouver is perpetually due for a magnitude 8 to 9 earthquake.

Certainly, during such an earthquake, thousands of wooden utility poles will come down and bring any overhead lines they carry down with them, And there are realistic fears that pole-mounted electrical transformers may arc and explode, sparking fires in nearby wooden buildings.

However, it may be true that during an earthquake, so far as transmission lines are concerned, they can run (overhead or underground) but they cannot hide.

The magnitude 6.9 Niigata Prefecture Chuetsu earthquake of 2004 toppled some 3401 utility poles supporting communication cables and the magnitude 6.9 Great Hanshin earthquake, which struck Kobe, Japan, in 1995, toppled a similar number of poles. In the case of the Hanshin quake, toppled utility poles were cited as a major obstacle to emergency crews being able to quickly reach victims after the quake.

On the other hand, the 2011 Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand is said to have caused serious damage along 360 kilometres of high voltage underground cables, while only a few kilometres of overhead lines were damaged.

So, putting aside the hypothetical risks posed by Telus’ fibre-optic upgrade during an earthquake—which we can do nothing about, we are left with the certain prospect of bottlenecks, blockages and disruptions—which we will probably all have to deal with at some point in Vancouver’s back alleys more than once over the next five years. Click the images to enlarge them.

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