Staying Connected: Compact Drills Assist in Bringing Broadband to the Caribbean

Most people in North America picture the Caribbean as a place where picturesque islands with beautiful beaches are surrounded by sparkling blue waters. The days are sunny, temperatures warm, and the islands are especially attractive to residents of the northern United States and Canadian provinces during cold winter months.

Caribbean islands are a perfect place to unwind and relax, but business people who insist on working while on vacation may be surprised to find state-of-the art broadband access that may be superior to the services they have at their offices and homes.  

A driving force bringing broadband excellence to the Caribbean is Columbus Communications Inc., a diversified telecommunications company with a core operating business providing: retail cable television services; high-speed Internet access; digital telephone and Internet infrastructure services; development of an undersea fiber-optic cable network; and wholesale network telecom capacity.

Columbus subsidiaries operate in 21 countries throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, serving 445,000 customers with Internet, cable television and telephone services. Columbus companies have deployed more than 13,545 miles of wet and dry fiber-optic cable and 8,700 miles of coaxial cable (see sidebar for more details about Columbus Communications).

One wholly-owned subsidiary, FibraLink Jamaica Ltd., has built, owns and operates an undersea fiber-optic network link from Jamaica to the United States and has made a substantial investment in the deployment of advanced broadband networks that provide voice telecommunications, data service and subscription video throughout island countries.

Outside plant in Jamaica and other areas is both aerial and underground.

“Location, risk factors, local practices, terrain and other considerations determine what goes aerial and what goes underground,” says Walt Malone, International Underground Technologies, Florida-based underground construction contractor for FibraLink. “Trinidad, for instance, is not considered in the hurricane belt and most plant is aerial. The Bahamas, on the other hand, is about 25 percent underground. Jamaica is about 20 percent underground. Most underground in its system is to provide redundancy, ‘harden’ the system to protect it from weather and other environmental-related damage, and to place cable to service hubs from which voice, telecommunications, data services and subscription video go to customers.”

Malone says underground segments usually involve placement of one or two 3-in. diameter HDPE ducts. A manhole is placed about every 1,000 ft of a run to facilitate cable installation. Cables installed include both fiber and coaxial, depending on the type of requirements.

Underground cable is installed by open-cut and horizontal directional drilling (HDD).

“In Jamaica, for example,” Malone says, “about 70 percent is open-cut with 30 percent by directional drilling. However, it appears over time that the percentages will get closer as we move into more urban areas.”

HDD is used to bring cable from sea landings ashore and to route cable to the landing station where data traffic is routed in to or out of the network.

“In Jamaica, there are six sea landings,” Malone explains. “Two bring cables that link the country to the Arcos ring and CFX express route, providing two diverse routes to North America and the rest of the world. Four comprise segments of redundancy rings between cities. Right now, the No. 1 job is completing redundancy rings to reduce the chances of interruption of services. The rings include aerial and underground cables, which follow different routes.”

FibraLink depends on Ditch Witch equipment for both trenchless and open-cut construction.

Most of the directional drilling has been completed with a JT2720 All Terrain (AT) mechanical, dual-pipe drive drilling system that uses an inner rod to drive a rock bit and an outer pipe for steering the downhole tool during drilling. The outer pipe also provides rotary torque for the hole opener during backreaming. The system is designed to drill in all types of soils and can drill through rock, cobble and gravel without the use of a mud motor and the large volumes of drilling fluid required for mud motor operation.

“This machine has been called on to perform a variety of jobs in a wide range of conditions,” says Malone. “In the past five years, it has completed approximately 800 bores with the longest being 660 ft. About 70 percent of the HDD installations have been through rock.”

Drilling supervisor Dan Beasley says one of the most memorable HDD projects was in Trinidad for pipes brought ashore from an ocean landing. The drill was on the side of a hill and the grade of the pilot bore was minus 55 degrees. Excess drilling fluid had to be pumped up the incline to the vacuum truck using several diaphragm pumps stationed up the bore path.

Another challenging project was the 660-ft installation that was under the Hope River in Jamaica after Hurricane Gustav knocked out a bridge from which system cables were attached. Entry point of the pilot bore was on a hillside 40 ft above the river, and the pilot bore proceeded down at a minus 55-degree angle. It leveled off 22 ft under the river and proceeded to the exit point on the opposite side. Three 3.3-in. pipes to hold cable were pulled back through the bore hole.

The self-contained JT2720 AT has a 125-horsepower diesel engine and develops 27,000 lbs pullback, up to 3,200 ft-lbs of spindle torque, and spindle speeds to 225 rpm. Ditch Witch 750 electronic guidance system was used to monitor the machine’s bore path in order that steering corrections could be made.

For open-trench work, FibraLink uses a 115-horsepower Ditch Witch RT115 with a saw and chain trenching attachments that can be changed out as conditions warrant. They also have a Ditch Witch 45-hp model 3700 with trenching and plowing attachments and utility backhoe and hydraulic boring attachment.

FibraLink also operates a Ditch Witch FX30 vacuum excavator to clean up excess drilling fluids, clean out manholes, and suck rope through pipes for pulling cable.

Jeri Lamerton is public relations manager for Ditch Witch.

Columbus Communications

Columbus Communications Inc. is an International Business Corporation (IBC) incorporated in 2004 under the Companies Act of Barbados. Its shares are privately held. Company headquarters are in Freeport, The Bahamas.

With a market presence in virtually every country in the region‚ Columbus provides strategic direction‚ private equity‚ capital market expertise‚ technical and network architecture design‚ marketing support and general management oversight to each of its investments. Columbus’ long–term strategy is to enable its operating subsidiaries to revolutionize the telecommunications industry. Columbus’ subsidiaries provide a wide array of high quality‚ cutting–edge products and services, such as digital video‚ high speed bandwidth‚ IP (Internet protocol)‚ cable television‚ broadband and telephone.

The region is on the cusp of wide-scale liberalization of the telecommunications sector, and Columbus is strategically positioned to enjoy first-mover advantages under open competition. Through continued investment and network extensions‚ Columbus plans to enter new markets and expand its presence in existing markets.

Subsidiary companies include Columbus Networks, FibraLink, Columbus Trinidad, Columbus Jamaica, Columbus Grenada, Cable Bahamas, CoralWave, Caribbean Crossings and Maxil.
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