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ISE Columnist Don McCarty, OSP Expert

Even Badly Neglected Copper Has Life Left!

April 1, 2018
The following opening paragraphs are contributed by Chuck Blume, someone who’s been in the industry for a very long time, starting as a cable repairman and moving into selling and […]

The following opening paragraphs are contributed by Chuck Blume, someone who’s been in the industry for a very long time, starting as a cable repairman and moving into selling and training on more types of equipment than we can name. Sometimes I feel I’m alone at the pulpit so I appreciate hearing my oft-preached messages coming from someone else!

From Chuck:
If you had told me in 1972 that by the mid-1980s I would be working in an electrically lit, air-conditioned/heated, and water-proof manhole (Controlled Environmental Vault), I would have thought you escaped from Area 51 in Nevada! And I thought things were changing fast then. I sat through a series of seminars in the late 1980s by the then President of BellSouth. I cannot recall the title, but the main message he was expounding was that there would be no copper left in the network by the turn of the Century. As with me in the 1970s, he could not have foreseen the unpredictable (and bright) future of the copper infrastructure.

Today, more and more people want faster and faster Internet speeds further and further from the COs. Because of this, the existing copper infrastructure in the so-called Last Mile is as viable today as it was in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the initial focus on fiber caused a temporary lapse in the maintenance of the copper infrastructure and the education/training of the technician to do so. Fortunately, many companies are realizing this and beginning to revisit their copper practices.

Food for Thought from Our 2022 ICT Visionaries

Bring your copper up to speed
Chuck is so right!

Sometimes we lag in technology, and sometimes we are ahead of ourselves. Not that copper technology itself came on the scene too early but the industry’s determination to make it more than it could be or that was financially feasible did harm to both fiber and copper, leaving the customers disappointed. Fiber couldn’t go in fast enough as it was too expensive, and couldn’t service many of the customers that were promised fiber. Meanwhile, the techs are being trained on fiber, and copper is being left to rot.

However, even if you have a badly neglected copper infrastructure, you can implement changes that won’t break the budget. It may require refocusing technicians’ time and efforts for a period of time, but the payoff is there! Here is a start:

Setting up a strategic repair and maintenance program
My biggest hurdle is the reactive mind set of both managers and technicians. It is justified because they have to handle a constantly changing demand load. Pressure is placed on the time-sensitive technician to finish the current job and move on to the next one. So, rather than proactively perusing the root cause of a circuit failure, the technician moves the circuit to a different cable pair.

Most single pair faults that disrupt service are in buried pedestals and aerial terminals. A measurement or two with the field technician’s multi-function test set would lead the technician to the root cause pedestal or terminal in less time than moving the circuit to another cable pair.

Physical neglect
Since most single pair faults occur in pedestals or terminals, inspection is in order. First, is there any external damage to the pedestal or terminal that might cause another circuit failure? Are all cables properly bonded and grounded? Is there any damage to other cable pairs?

Special attention is a requirement when rodent or insect damage is present in a pedestal or terminal. Is there the proper amount of pea gravel in any pedestal? Pea gravel prevents rodents entering buried pedestals, and it also condenses moisture.

I have worked with several independent telcos who do encourage a proactive approach. Some require their field technicians to inspect a certain number of pedestals or terminals per month, and to repair any problems. As an aside, one field technician told his manager, "I have completed inspection of all pedestals and terminals in my area. What should I do now"? His manager said, "Start over." It is a never-ending task but it is an important one.

Electronic neglect
Multiple faults can occur in pedestals and terminals that can be located and repaired. When multiple faults occur in buried sections of cables and are not properly addressed and repaired, they can be a time-consuming disaster. The root causes usually are water in air-core PIC cables, water in splices, and sheath damage.

When several circuits are disrupted and, as a result, they are moved to other pairs in the cable, reactive technicians will transfer those circuits to other pairs until there are no good cable pairs left. A proactive approach locates the root cause of multiple faults eliminating repeat dispatches and unnecessary truck rolls.

It’s NOT THAT DIFFICULT to become proactive. The technicians are already out there, so let’s improve your ROI. Get your technician committed to the cause instead of simply involved in the process.

Signing off
Thank you, Chuck, for sharing your thoughts and experience with our readers. Readers, we would love to hear your feedback. If you have questions about how to institute a proactive approach to maintenance, give me a call at 831.818.3930 or send an email to [email protected]. You can also reach out to Chuck at [email protected].

Chuck Blume, a USMC veteran, has 45+ years of experience in telecommunication sales, technical support, and training, on 50+ different pieces of Copper Test Equipment. His career includes 18 years with a major RBOC as an Installer Repairman, Cable Repairman (Installed first Fiber Optic SLC-96 in BellSouth), Carrier Foreman (In charge of Loop Electronics for 1988 Democratic National Convention), and Digital Loop Carrier Technical Support Staff. Chuck enjoys being with his family, golfing, backpacking, and traveling. For more information, contact Chuck at [email protected].
About the Author

Don McCarty

Don McCarty is the OSP EXPERT columnist for ISE magazine, discussing the issues around provisioning, testing, and maintaining copper for all services from POTs to IPTV. Don is also president of and the lead trainer for McCarty Products, a technical training and products company training field technicians, cable maintenance, installation repair, and Central Office technicians and managers. For more information, email [email protected] or visit