As fiber network expands, SDN takes special precautions to ensure it delivers

June 17, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by SDN Communications.

A construction crew that cuts internet fiber on accident while digging for a building or road project doesn’t interrupt only online streaming services or email. There’s even more at risk.

A fiber cut potentially could disrupt urgent, life-saving information from being transmitted to an ancillary health care facility or to an accident site. Sensitive and potentially life-saving data could be left in the balance.

That’s why SDN Communications takes special precautions when installing, maintaining and expanding its network. It’s designed to be repairable, even after catastrophes, said Jerry Andersen, manager of outside plant engineering at SDN.

“I wish I could take credit for it, but it’s been designed that way since the beginning,” said Andersen, who has been with SDN for the past 10 years of the company’s 30. “SDN puts in the extra expense to protect the network and make repairs in an expedited fashion.”

For starters, more than 99 percent of SDN’s all-fiber network is buried underground. It’s not hanging unprotected from poles. The exception is a few poles in rocky areas of the Black Hills where fiber cannot be buried.

In cities, there are up to three fiber lines buried in an orange colored, heavy-duty conduit to enhance visibility and protection of the network as well as provide multiple connection options. The video below shows one of those orange conduits being pulled under a rural highway.

It’s also become routine to provide more than one transmission route, so data can be rerouted automatically in case one path has an issue. That is especially important for customers who use a lot of data and need continuous service.

There’s more.

Strategically located, enclosed service facilities limit the potential impact area of any unexpected problem that might arise. There are six service points in Sioux Falls; smaller towns might have two. They make locating and fixing problems easier. New fiber can be blown into the casing from the enclosed vaults — pictured below — or locations with a “hut” — a small building.

Because of South Dakota’s largely rural nature, the biggest challenge in fixing network problems in the countryside typically is getting a crew to the site quickly.

SDN and its primary subcontractors – Engbarth Directional Drilling and Wiltech Fiber Splicing – typically deal with four or five major incidents a year in which fiber has been damaged. Most of the incidents are construction-related, Andersen said.

“I cannot think of one that’s taken us longer than eight hours to fix, and that includes driving time,” he said.

SDN owns and maintains about 3,100 miles of fiber. SDN member companies across South Dakota own and operate more than 40,000 additional miles of fiber and other network infrastructure. SDN partner companies in Minnesota and Iowa also own and maintain thousands of miles of network.

Andersen and his crew oversee the addition of about 100 miles of new fiber each year. That will be the case again during the 2019 construction season, Andersen said.

A lot of this season’s broadband connection work will help major wireless carriers prepare for 5G, the next generation of communications technology.

“We’re doing a lot of cell tower and small cell work this year. The orders have been coming in pretty quickly,” Andersen said.

Cell towers are connected underground to broadband networks. “Wireless signals” aren’t entirely wireless. They don’t bounce along a series of towers. They, too, depend on wired networks.

One of the SDN’s biggest projects this year involves adding about 16 miles of fiber in Minnesota to connect the Mountain Lake and St. James areas.

Headway is being made on Andersen’s to-do list of about 150 projects, at least in project numbers. About half the projects are done. But in terms of adding mileage and finishing work volume, the projects are not half-done.

Like farmers in the Sioux Falls region, network builders will need cooperative weather this summer to complete large projects.

“It’s very difficult to plow when the ditches are filled with water,” Andersen said.

The projects will get done eventually, though, and they will get finished with future performance and reliability in focus. The regional telecommunications system will be better as a result.

SDN Communications is a regional leader in providing broadband connectivity and cybersecurity services to businesses in communities such as Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Worthington, Minn., and the surrounding areas.


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As fiber network expands, SDN takes special precautions to ensure it delivers

There are about 150 projects on Jerry Andersen’s to-do list. But it’s how he and his team accomplish them that helps set SDN Communications apart.

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