The fibre optic cable has led to consumer being able to get faster data speeds at a lower cost. However, in as much as access to a fibre connection has become essential to many people, the laying of the cable is an expensive venture which few telcos can afford.

This is the reason why it is not as widely spread as many would like due to the fact that it requires having to dig up the ground so as to put the cables which can be expensive in terms of manpower, equipment and licenses.

But what if the fibre could be wrapped on power lines which can be found even in the remotest parts of our country courtesy of the KPLC last mile initiative? As a response to this, Facebook Connectivity, in league with ULC Robotics, has developed a robot capable of winding optical fibre on live medium voltage (MV) power lines that typically serve residential areas in much of the world. In terms of costs, it is claimed cost three to five times cheaper than traditional aerial fibre construction.

The robot will be capable of installing over a kilometer of fiber and passing the dozens of intervening obstacles autonomously in approximately an hour and a half. To account for the human interaction steps such as setup, loading and unloading the robot, installing transitions, they have been conservatively estimating an overall build speed of 1.5 km to 2 km per robot per day on average.

Traditionally, aerial fiber deployment involves heavy machinery, reel carts, large spools and large crew sizes. While using the robot, the fibre deployment crew will comprise two or three electric utility linemen and a pickup truck with a few kilometer spools of fiber, a robot, and a few accessories, allowing many crews to work in parallel.

Given that a power line can  see elevated temperatures far above the melting point of typical fibre-optic jackets, and the stretching of the power line due to thermal changes and wind-induced aeolian vibration can induce strain on the fibres. They have come up with cable using G.657-compliant 200-micron fibres with a special jacket weighing 28 pounds for a 1km span.

In developing countries, it is expected that the  labour of running the robot would be between $2 and $3 per metre.

Karthik Yogeeswaran, wireless systems engineer at Facebook Connectivity, had this to say, “By lowering the total cost of aerial fibre deployment, we expect that our system will have a significant impact on internet penetration, especially among the half of the world earning less than $5.50 per day. While we still have a number of steps to complete before our first deployment, we have confidence that this approach will yield a substantial improvement to both the cost and speed of fibre deployments.”