Hamburg lights sewers to break broadband bottleneck

July 1, 2002


To deliver the services that tomorrow's German consumers will demand, today's broadband access networks will have to give way to higher-speed technologies-and ultimately that means putting fiber closer to enterprises and homes. This task traditionally has been hugely expensive because of the cost of digging up roads. Thus, new techniques are being developed to minimize the need for digging. In the German city of Hamburg, Hamburger Stadtentwässerung-Kommunikationsnetze GmbH (HSE KOM, Hamburg Waste Water Utility, and Communication Networks Ltd.), a carrier's carrier, has laid optical fibers in the sewer system using miniature robots.

Conventional installations with duct systems and associated access components cost typically 150-400 euros per meter. The bulk of this cost derives from construction; the cable and the accessories hardly count at all. That's why all alternative network installation methods currently on the market have one thing in common: the avoidance of underground construction work.

Another important issue is construction time. The telecommunications business is dynamic and characterized by the demand for short connection times. This demand means that cable installation methods that enable high season-independent installation rates while avoiding time-consuming authorization procedures will have the best market chances.

HSE KOM was founded in 1999 to make use of Hamburg's 5,400-km wastewater network for laying fiber optics. Using HSE KOM's existing sewer infrastructure, the company is rolling out a legacy-free optical broadband network to meet the needs of major businesses in Hamburg and provide an alternative to Deutsche Telekom for last mile connectivity.

Laying optical fibers in the sewer system allows HSE KOM's network to get within tens of meters of each home, leaving only a small distance to be dug. In addition, the carrier will try a new technique in the near future, in which fiber is fed down the pipe leading from each home and automatically spliced into the fiber network underground by the robot. That will eliminate the need to dig up roads.

Using the existing sewer infrastructure gives HSE KOM key benefits unavailable to many other network operators that deliver services through conventional open-cut techniques. Not only can HSE KOM cut service-provisioning times in Hamburg, but there is also minimal chance of disruption to the network through third-party interference and a significant reduction in road excavation. By operating from a lower-cost base, HSE KOM is able to offer highly competitive prices.

Phase one of the build was completed in 2000-80 km of fiber-optic cable over route lengths of 50 km that connects the south of Sweden with a test route. Until recently, HSE KOM was pushing forward the creation of networks. The emphasis is now on the construction of small rings to provide the connections to all buildings.

Business proposition
HSE KOM offers a wholesale proposition, focusing on companies that need to supply broadband data services to business customers like telecom carriers, telehotels, service providers, building local-exchange carriers, and system integrators that are looking for network access in Hamburg.

"Hamburg is one of Europe's major business centers," says Peter Dammann, managing director of HSE KOM, "but its communications infrastructure currently falls far short of providing the capacity that businesses really need. Despite extensive digging since telecom's liberalization began, [Deutsche] Telekom's legacy network remains, for many businesses, the only option for true last mile access in Germany's major port."

According to Dammann, HSE KOM has been created to resolve these issues. The carrier's core network is designed to pass within 50 m of 50% of its target buildings.

"Our parent company gives HSE KOM strong backing and access to a unique asset base," he explains. "Through Hamburg Waste Water Utility's sewer system, we can provide network access to major businesses in Hamburg center with a 90% 'no dig' deployment strategy. In addition, via our nonexclusive strategic relationship with the Fiber Access by Sewer Tubes [FAST], we can connect our customers directly to a next-generation national network infrastructure that spans Hamburg and offers promise to other German cities that choose to install fiber-optic cables in sewers."

The FAST system
FAST was developed by Alcatel Kabel (Mönchengladbach, Germany), in conjunction with the worldwide active robotics manufacturer and sewer rehabilitation company KA-TE (Zurich, Switzerland) and the engineering company IK-T (Regensburg, Germany) that specializes in access-network planning. This partnership ensured that the telecom cable network requirements and the sewer engineering aspects were taken into consideration during the development stages.

The FAST concept promises to realize direct customer access via laterals in a further development stage. The ability to optimize the network structure and the global availability of the sewer network at all customer locations of interest to the telecom industry makes this infrastructure a leading candidate for installing the telecom cable networks of the future.