Fiber installation in high demand across Western Canada

Vermeer D24x4 S3 installing fiber cables in Western Canada.

by Christine Smith, marketing and training specialist

The need for fast internet connectivity is common concern for everyone these days. Spending the last year social distancing and working remotely is putting a strain on existing infrastructure. Thus, leading to more and more fiber work around Canada.

For horizontal directional drill (HDD) contractors specializing in fiber and shallow utility work, the COVID-19 pandemic has added demand and pressure to put as much product in the ground as possible before the end of this year’s working season. Two companies working hard to expand high-speed connections across Western Canada are High Speed Crow and Platinum Hydrovac & HDD. For the past several years, both companies have dedicated their resources to help ensure everyone has access to high-speed internet.

Providing rural fiber access

The team at High Speed Crow, based in Lockport, Manitoba, is a trusted name in providing high-quality fiber and wireless internet services for much of rural Manitoba. Company founder, Bryan King, said it has been his mission to deliver the same levels of internet access to his rural neighbors as people living in the city. “From businesses in smaller communities competing with large companies to giving our young people access to the same educational tools that city kids have, high-speed internet access isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity no matter where a person lives,” he explained. “Our job at High Speed Crow is to deliver access to over 18,130 square kilometers (7,000 m2) of rural Manitoba using fiber and wireless broadband.” 

In High Speed Crow’s early years, the company only delivered wireless service. However, in 2015, King decided to expand the company’s services as the demand for higher internet bandwidths grew. Wireless service would no longer be enough in more densely populated areas. After exploring fiber installation options, King concludes it was in his customers’ best interest to perform the work themselves.

The High Speed Crow fiber equipment fleet includes a Vermeer RTX1250 ride-on tractor; Vermeer LM42 and SPX25 vibratory plows; a Vermeer V500 vacuum excavator; and Vermeer D24x40 S3, D20x22 S3 and D9x13 S3 HDDs. The big vibratory plow works to install the system’s backbone—short drop with the small plow and HDDs for more sensitive ground conditions, connecting businesses and homes. The vacuum excavator is an essential part of the process, helping to avoid buried infrastructure and support their drilling crew.

The bulk of fiber installation work for High Speed Crow happens during the summer months. This means crews need to be ready to roll each spring when the weather gets nice. On average, crews install 46,720 meters to 54,864 meters (150,000 ft to 180,000 ft) of fiber each year. The amount of work done varies because the soil conditions in the area can be a bit unpredictable. Most of the time, crews work in softer soils, but sometimes there can be patches of hard rock.

The team at High Speed Crow moves forward every working season, trying to outdo what they accomplished the year before. King doesn’t believe they will ever be done expanding their fiber network in the metro Winnipeg region. “As demand for high-speed internet grows, so will our responsibilities to our customers,” he said. “We’ve been here delivering on our promise during today’s uncertainties, and we’ll be there for them when life gets back to normal.” 

Vermeer D24x40 S3 installing fiber cables in Western Canada.

Working efficiently in the city

Platinum Hydrovac & HDD pushes its team hard every summer, installing fiberoptic conduit across Western Canada. According to Lorne Aasen, the directional drilling manager for the Nisku—an Alberta-based company—supporting their shallow utility contractor’s installation demands seems to grow every year. Most of the company’s projects are in Edmonton, Alberta, with more than 20 crews around the city.

To get the most from its people, Platinum makes sure each crew has the proper equipment. Aasen said that choosing a limited number of machine models and manufacturing brands is an integral part of that. “We only operate Vermeer HDDs,” he said. “This decision makes it easier to move people around as we need to. It also simplifies maintenance and helps reduces the volume of parts and consumables we need to stock.”

Platinum’s HDD fleet ranges in size from the Vermeer D6x6 to the D40x55 S3 HDD. For short drops, the crews primarily use D6x6 and D10x15 S3 HDDs because of their compact size and lightweight footprint. Aasen explained that these machines help minimize restoration. This way, crews can get more done during the limited working window in the summer.

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For mainline work throughout Edmonton, Platinum primarily uses Vermeer D20x22 S3 HDDs. Made up of soft clays, the ground conditions in the area are ideal. These units have proven efficiency for installing the hundreds of thousands of meters (ft) of conduit each year. The company’s larger drills are primarily for natural gas work, but can tackle fiber installation when ground conditions are challenging.

“In Edmonton, we typically have around 15 crews dedicated to mainline work and another six to install conduit for doing home drops,” Aasen explained. “The mainline crews are usually installing triple 7.6-centimeter and 10.2-centimeter (3-in and 4-in) conduit bundles. They shoot the pilot bore, ream the hole to a 30.5-centimeter or 40.6-centimeter (12-in or 16-in) diameter and then pull back. It’s all pretty straight forward, and we’ve been doing it for so many years in the area, we’ve gotten pretty efficient at it.”

Even though the area’s environment has become quite familiar to the Platinum team, each crew follows a meticulous process to help reduce the risk of utility strikes. The standardized operating process works so well that Platinum’s crews safely installed 107,000 meters (35,109.9 ft) without a contact.

Vermeer D24x40 S3 installing fiber cables in Western Canada.

Accomplishing it all

Whether working in rural areas or a busy metro, the contractors agreed that planning, training and a dependable equipment dealer are crucial for maximizing their productivity. Both organizations work closely with the team at Vermeer Canada and say their efforts are important to staying on schedule. King said his team has had a wonderful working experience with Vermeer Canada over the years, and for Aasen, the dealership is responsible for the company’s commitment to proactive preventative maintenance.

Platinum uses Vermeer telematics with each drill in their fleet. Aasen said he monitors the hours and service needs of every single drill from his computer. But more importantly, Vermeer Canada is getting that information too. So, when it’s time for service to be performed or there is an issue with a drill, the service team at Vermeer Canada can schedule preventative maintenance or deploy a service technician to get a machine back up and running.