Let’s take a look at Underground Construction in telecom! So, my name is Fred Arnold. I work at Knight Enterprises as a Multimedia Specialist. My role here involves working with various media types (social media, video, blogging, web design, graphic design and photography) to help us achieve specified marketing goals. I started off as a Dispatcher in the company four years ago. Within that department I learned the daily operations of our cable technicians and subcontractors. I learned how to troubleshoot modems and cable equipment on the back end as well as balance accounts, reschedule appointments and various other administrative tasks the company required. One thing I did not realize about the company I worked for was the scope in which we do business. That is, installing miles upon miles of infrastructure from the poles that carry it to the trenches that hold it, and Knight Enterprises is at the forefront of that effort. I decided one day I wanted to see what we did outside of residential installs so I spent a day in the field with Rob Portee.
Let’s Jump into Construction
Rob is a field supervisor for Knight’s Underground Department who surveys jobs during the work day. He verifies if there are ongoing issues, what the best fix may be for those issues and, often times, engineers the layouts of repairs, new builds and jobs requiring work around already existing infrastructure. He handles billing to make sure our in house and subcontractor construction crews get paid for the work they do as well.
I’ve been working in this field for years. I started in ground robs… 26… 25… some years ago. – Rob
Walking into a day with him, I did not know what to expect. I came from Knight’s Dispatch office where the name of the game was residential installation of cable, internet and phone services, so the construction world was a large mystery to me. This experience not only showed me what Knight does in construction, it defined the scope.
One thing that became apparent was my lack of knowledge involving specific terms. You had a FDH, a box that consolidated the connections to many houses that allowed for easy disconnects. You had Bentonite, an absorbent aluminum based clay that allowed a hole to be drilled without collapsing on itself over a great distance. Those holes were drilled by a Vermeer 2440 Horizontal Directional Drill that used water pressure mixed with dirt to loosen the dirt around the drill bit.
After the process is completed, a pipe is placed through the hole where fiber, copper coax and any other type of data line may be fed through. Often times, the dirt that has to be drilled through dictates the type of water mixture needed. Clay based dirt needs detergent mixed with water for the drill to be effective because the detergent eats away at the clay. Older cable lines used to be straight buried under the ground which left them in-able to escape corrosion and water damage. Since those lines now sit within a polycarbonate pipe, it adds an extra layer of protection. This means less repair on water damaged lines.
When drilling, a certain amount of feet is required by the construction crew to abide by. Flags and markings are placed within the area that designate existing or future gas, power and water lines as well as any other underground system like sprinklers. The crews aim for a 2.5 ft gap between where they drill and those existing lines. Other types of drilling include water and air jetting. These techniques are not currently used by Knight, but are done utilizing very high pressure air or water to drill a hole.
Vermeer 24×40 Directional Drill in Action
Fiber taps may sit in the ground or on a main feed line. If you look up at a section of phone lines, you may see a black box hanging from one of the lowest ones down the line. That is a fiber tap. Those allow for houses to be hooked up to fiber networks and come in a variety of different sizes. There are 2 port, 4 port, 6 port and can even span to 288 port at the main connection. One thing to note is the vastness of this infrastructure. You may take for granted the ease of use in your everyday life, but it took an amazing amount of time and effort to get cable to each and every house. It starts at a main connection point and is fed down the line. This could be miles and miles long. Rob pointed out a main connection to me and stated, “We started there, buried a mile and a half that way, a mile and a half back up, and about a half mile to meet here.” He was using his hands to describe the process, and between us and the main connection there was a small lake, a number of roads and quite a bit of empty land. To say the least, these jobs are no small endeavor.
Everyday, there is something new. There are always problems to fix and a deadline to meet. – Rob
Power supplies supply the power to an entire system which depends on the amount of amps going through the power supply. When there are too many amps, the power supplies are often split into an A amp and a B amp to lower the overall pressure on the power supply to prevent it from breaking. The power supply and the FDH box are often located together, but not always.
With all construction there is a need for safety and regulation, and every project that is conducted requires specific permits. When it comes to work that needs to be done, certain permits are required. If the work happens near a road, where the Department of Transportation has the right of way, then the permit must be supplied by the DOT. Right of way is determined by county basis and is generally defined by a certain length from a median. Pedestals that have existing lines are a good indicator of where the right of way is. Any other permits are given through the County. DOT permits can take 2-4 weeks to be approved while County permits can take 4-6 weeks.
Knight Enterprises has done contracts with many companies including Goodwill, McDonalds, San Antonio Citizens Credit Union, Checkers, Costco and many others. Often times, jobs get held up due to logistics like a certain business not allowing another service provider through their land. For instance, if one business has a contract with Frontier, that business may not allow for construction to be done through their land to place Spectrum service at a nearby business. This means that jobs are often tricky to get accomplished and require some problem solving. Rob is awesome in this area. People in the trade that build the schematics and maps for these installs are called engineers, and Rob often times finds himself having to re-engineer a job due to situations that arise while the job is taking place.
Now viewing those maps and schematics of a future install presents the person with a complete layout of a situation. Dotted lines depict fiber cable, circles depict 2 port taps, and triangles depict pedestals and power. They are similar to electrician schematics. Each map has a reference table that states what decibels the signal should be transmitting and returning. For the most part, that number should be 37 db on the low end and 47.5 on the high. It is important for these numbers to be spot on because they have a large impact on the signal coming into a customer’s home. Too high and a customer may experience ghosting (watching one channel while another channel is also coming in), and if too low, pixilation can occur.
Overall, the experience was enlightening. What I wrote here was merely a snap shot of what our Underground Department does while there is still much more to it, and it does not even include our Aerial Department. So always keep in mind while you are surfing the web and watching TV: Those services require real time and effort. They require ingenuity and street smarts, and they require hundreds of people to get it done in a day. Technology has advanced, especially involving the Internet, and Knight Enterprises will continue to bring services to life no matter the scope! Our next adventure will be with the Aerial Department, so keep an eye out!