The fiber optic market really started to pick up steam again over the last year and a half. This resurgence of activity has generated a lot of excitement in the trenchless construction industry. Last mile fiber-to-the-home projects are popping up all over the country …

A small footprint is important.

The fiber optic market really started to pick up steam again over the last year and a half. This resurgence of activity has generated a lot of excitement in the trenchless construction industry. Last mile fiber-to-the-home projects are popping up all over the country, in big cities and rural communities. While some of the work occurs as new construction, a majority is occurring in established neighborhoods. 

Verizon is one of the world’s leading providers of high-growth communications services. Verizon companies combined are the largest providers of wire line and wireless communications in the United States, operating in one of the most challenging and competitive markets. Verizon has committed itself to providing its customers with advanced, integrated network solutions that will help meet their current and future network needs on a global basis. To accomplish that goal, they are pushing fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) services. The company began implementing its FTTP program in early 2002. Since then, the program continues to expand, and now includes projects in most Verizon service areas, including a large-scale program in Southern California. The project consists of two types of installations – greenfield and overlay. Greenfield installations occur with new construction, installing fiber optic cable from the start.  Overlay installations take place in already-established neighborhoods.

Henkels & McCoy, Blue Bell, Pa., was contracted to tackle the conduit installation work for the Verizon FTTP program in Southern California. With restoration costs accounting for a large portion of each project, Henkels & McCoy crews are utilizing trenchless technology as often as possible. For many of the installations, crews and subcontractors are using Grundodrill 4X compact directional drills from TT Technologies.

Henkels & McCoy works for the 10 largest telephone companies in the country.

Contractor Background

Henkels & McCoy, founded in 1923 by John B. Henkels Jr., started with tree trimming and landscaping. The Great Depression nearly drove the company to ruin, but a hurricane in New England in 1938 proved to be the turning point in the company’s history. While the storm was still blowing its way through the Northeast, Henkels & McCoy rallied, recruiting teams of linemen to send to the area. Just hours after the winds had subsided, Henkels & McCoy crews arrived to restore utility services.

Today, Henkels & McCoy is one of the largest privately held engineering, network development and construction firms serving the communications, information technology and utility industries in the United States. The firm offers one of the largest networks of qualified individuals available in the industry through more than 80 permanent offices and operation facilities strategically located across the nation and selected international markets.

Henkels & McCoy director of underground construction & telecom services, DeRoy “Butch” Silveous, details the company’s ties to the telecommunications industry. He explains, “Over the years, we have established ourselves as a trusted resource for operating telephone companies. We serve this market through the design, engineering and installation of local loop infrastructure and equipment. At present, we work for the 10 largest operating telephone companies in the United States, as well as many of the smaller, leading independents. We are specialists in the route design and placement of long-haul fiber optic cable, having installed thousands of miles for long-distance, interexchange and carriers’ carriers.

“Henkels & McCoy offers total engineering, design, layout, installation, service and maintenance of fiber optic cable and support devices. Our capabilities include inside and outside plant construction for multi-mode LAN fiber systems, as well as long-haul single mode systems and optical ground wire. We have successfully built fiber optic backbone supporting multiple communication services under one sheath. Working with telecommunications companies, we have installed thousands of miles of fiber optic cable.”

With that level of experience in utility construction comes a keen insight into what construction techniques work and which ones don’t for specific applications. In the case of the conduit installation in California, it is compact directional drilling that receives a great deal of emphasis.

Compact rigs are easy to transport.

The Compact Rigs Are Versatile, Cost-effective

According to TT Technologies directional drilling specialist Paul Rogers, the development of smaller drills has been going on for several years.  He says, “I think some of people in the industry saw this coming or at least hoped it would come eventually. Those equipment manufacturers that anticipated it really got a head start on everyone and the equipment shows it. It is easier to use, more capable and more reliable. With some compact drills offering nearly 10,000 pounds of thrust and pullback, the machines are able to accomplish a wide range of installation tasks. Henkels and McCoy crews use the Grundodrill 4X to install 11⁄4-inch to 2-inch diameter polyethylene conduit for underground fiber optic cable installations at lengths up to 500 feet.”  

According to Silveous, the compact directional drill actually is part of a logical progression in terms of the equipment they have used in the past. He notes, “Using compact directional drilling applications to install conduits and cabling is a more logical and cost-effective method of installation. It is less intrusive in terms of the environment you are working in, and is small enough to use where larger units are not an option. It is quicker than conventional open trench methods, faster than using pneumatic piercing tools and requires less clean up. It is an essential piece of equipment, and is used everyday.”
Rogers says, “These mini-drills work well in residential or commercial areas. They’re lightweight. They can be transported on a trailer pulled by 1-ton truck, and require minimal crews to operate.

Most of the fiber-to-the-home work is in established neighborhoods.

Project Scope

For the Verizon work in Southern California, a typical project includes thousands of feet of conduit installation, according to Silveous. He says, “The projects typically involve 20,000 feet of conduit installation. Of that, about 16,000 feet is easement with another 4,000 feet of street crossings. The allotted time on a project like this is about six weeks to eight weeks, so we really need to keep things moving. That includes placing the fiber, splicing and testing the fiber after the conduit is installed.”

In addition to the amount of duct that needs to be installed, Henkels & McCoy crews also are faced with approximately 30,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet of concrete removal and replacement, as well as 4,500 square feet of asphalt removal and replacement per project. To mitigate for impact of restoration, crews utilize trenchless technology as much as possible.

Last-mile projects present a solid opportunity.

Rogers insists, “This is a perfect arena to highlight the capabilities of the compact directional drill. The unit was specifically designed for this type of work. And the Henkels & McCoy crews are really getting a lot out of their drills. The drills are being used everyday and have successfully installed tens of thousands of feet of conduit to date.”