Fiber network follows trans-Alaska pipeline

May 1, 1997

Fiber network follows trans-Alaska pipeline

BEN HARRISON

Alaska`s famed oil pipeline is scheduled to serve as a parallel path for a fiber-optic network stretching 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. A $2 million contract between Omaha, NE-based Network Technologies and Intelect Inc., Richardson, TX, has been awarded for the initial phase of this fiber-optic network.

Under the contract, Intelect plans to supply 86 of its Sonetlynx 155-Mbit/sec OC-3 digital fiber-optic multiplexers to Kanas Telecom, a consortium of Network Technologies and three Alaska companies: Arctic Scope Regional Corp., Ahtna Inc., and Chugach Alaska Corp. Kanas Telecom plans to design, build, and operate the fiber-optic network, which includes connections to Fairbanks and Anchorage (see figure). Construction is expected to be completed in about 30 months.

Kanas Telecom plans to offer network access to other communications service providers and cable-TV companies. The fiber system is going to provide digital communications services, including video teleconferencing, high-speed data communications, and voice transmission.

To this end, Kanas Telecom plans to structure the network design to ensure that the network is both technically and economically accessible to as many Alaskans as possible. This network design enables people living in some of the state`s most-remote regions to be connected to the rest of the world by means of high-speed fiber-optic communications.

Alex Hills, vice provost for computing services at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, and formerly involved with building telecommunications networks in Alaska, sees this fiber network along the pipeline as a positive development for the state and the people who live there. He points out that there is a marine fiber link from Seward to the 48 states on the mainland. "With the distances involved, microwave and satellite communications historically have served the state," Hills explains. "This fiber pipeline project will aid pipeline communications as well as the populations in Anchorage and Fairbanks."

Marten de Vries, a research scientist with the Fiber & Electro-Optics Research Center at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, VA, says, "The fiber build overlaying the Alaskan pipeline does away with the need to cope with attorneys over right-of-way issues." He also points out that the optical fiber may serve as a possible sensor source to pinpoint breaks on the pipeline.

In the second phase of this project, Network Technologies, a subsidiary of Jackson, MS-based WorldCom Inc. (which was formed as a result of a recent merger between mfs Communications Co. and WorldCom), plans to expand the fiber-optic network using 55 more Sonetlynx nodes. The second phase is expected to be under way by late 1997. The dollar value for this project has yet to be determined, according to John Shaunfield, Intelect`s vice president for fiber-optic systems.

He explains that the fiber-optic cable will be buried alongside the trans-Alaska pipeline. The multiplexers from Intelect aid signal-control devices that operate the pipeline`s pumps and valves. Intelect`s fiber multiplexers handle both Synchronous Optical Network (Sonet) and Synchronous Digital Hierarchy (sdh) transmissions. The multiplexer can be upgraded from 52-Mbit/sec OC-1 to OC-3 optical signals, and features an integrated digital video module. The device supports these functions in their native protocols, without the need for channel banks, crossconnects, hubs, or routers.

The company`s compliance with Sonet and sdh protocols allows for the internetworking of transmission products from multiple vendors. Speeds range from approximately 51.84 Mbits/sec to 2.5 Gbits/sec and higher to accommodate user requirements for greater capacity and enhanced performance.

According to Joe Trucott, vice president of network services for Vyvx Inc. in Tulsa, OK, "Utilities deploy fiber in much the same way as what is happening [along] the Alaskan pipeline. Rights-of-way are established, and they greatly aid in the construction process. While fiber is not going through the pipeline casing on the Alaskan build, Vyvx was one of the first companies to do this on other projects." Vyvx operates an 11,000-mile fiber-optic network in the United States.

The trans-Alaska pipeline is one of the largest pipeline systems in the world. Construction on the pipeline began in 1975. Since startup in 1977, more than 11 billion barrels of oil have been transported through the system. The pipeline crosses three mountain ranges and more than 800 rivers and streams, including a 2295-ft span across the Yukon River. More than half of the pipeline`s 800-mile length is elevated above ground and is buttressed by 78,000 vertical support members. q

Ben Harrison was formerly senior editor of Lightwave.

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