Joint Use Hot Topics: The Race for Air and Land

Posted by Ashley Little on May 17, 2016

conduit vaults.jpgAs we have mentioned
, the field of service providers—especially jack-of-all-trades businesses who blur the lines between telecommunications, entertainment and broadband internet—is getting a little crowded. Utility poles are now packed with attachers who may compete for customers with the owners of the poles to which they secure their equipment. However, there is yet another field asset out there getting fairly congested that you may not think about: conduit vaults.

In addition to the more visible aerial congestion happening on poles, underground vaults have been experiencing quite the land grab recently as expansion efforts propel providers to new areas and into emerging technologies to reach new customers. Google Fiber alone has planned expansion in several large cities in 2015, and there are literally hundreds of others out there vying to pull their fiber through one of the few remaining holes in a typical section of conduit. It is a race for land that is not likely to end any time soon, so preparation—and good field asset management—is key. Here is what you need to know about the sprint for space going on right under our feet.

There are a lot of players.

There is a large contingency of different groups trying to get service to market and all of them need access to shared underground resources to roll out new or better service to the masses. All of the big telecommunication providers own conduit and everyone else wants in—including Google, one of the biggest and most aggressively expanding providers around. All of this leads to a premium on conduit space, and no one, not even the up-and-coming gigabit provider, is immune to the laws of physics. If there is no room, there is no room: our sources tell us that Google is in many areas working under the assumption that all conduit infrastructure out there for them to utilize is full. We cannot be sure this is entirely true, but it is apparently what they are being told, and one thing is for sure…

It is a numbers game.

Our expectation is that the larger players who own most of the conduit in this country—multi-service providers like CenturyLink and AT&T, for example—reserve about 60 percent of their vault space for themselves, for current use or future expansion. That leaves 40 percent vacant to start, but most everywhere, some of that is likely to already be leased out by other groups. The reality is, no company is likely to ever lease out 100 percent of conduit, so it is a safe assumption to say half of that remaining 40 percent is available. That leaves 20 percent open and ready for use. Not a lot. 

Success is all about relationships.

Unless your company is interested in building its own vaults, you will have to run your fiber through someone else’s space. Joint use underground works much like aerial joint use, only with requests to attach and detach functioning more like asking for "right of way" to pass through a structure.

Unfortunately, that also means some of the same problems that apply to poles apply to conduit as well. Neglecting to ask permission, and then showing up, doesn’t make conduit owners very happy. Neither does shoddy workmanship, leaving excessive coil sitting around that can be dangerous for technicians, or hogging the most accessible (usually the top) holes when pulling wire. Just like standing to the right and walking on the left on an escalator, there are some unwritten rules of conduit courtesy that should be followed. Adhere to them, make sure your field asset management is on point, and the next time your company needs to run fiber from A to B through C’s conduit, they may be more inclined to say yes and sign the contract quickly.

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