News & events
Red metal networks: Red alert (1 of 2)
In my role as COO, I frequently get to talk to operations managers about what concerns keep them up at night. International commodity pricing is probably not the one that springs most readily to mind, but the combination of inexorable rises in metal prices (copper is now around five times more valuable than ten years ago), and the troubled state of the economy (unemployment has nearly doubled over the same period), has led to an epidemic of copper theft. This in turn is having a profound impact on the reliability of communications networks, as can commonly be seen in the headlines.
It might be fair to assume that copper theft is only a problem that affects communications delivered over copper cables (such as VDSL & ADSL broadband circuits). However, the case couldn’t be further from it. Thieves seeking copper could either accidentally remove fibre cables as well, or, more maliciously, will cut fibre cables in one location to divert attention from their activities in another! In this two part blog, I’ll be offering advice as to how networks can be protected from this prevalent risk.
Choosing non-metallic routes
Firstly, by opting for non-metallic cable routes. The first priority must be to ensure that high integrity data is routed over optical fibre from end to end, to avoid the risk posed by copper components. However the mere presence of metallic cables in a route is enough to increase risk, so try to avoid the use of fibre cables in routes which also contain copper. The most vulnerable routes, unsurprisingly, are those with the most copper present. For example, railway cables routes are notoriously prone to theft as they contain high volumes of copper and sometimes aluminium cables. Within this cocktail, the relatively few fibre cables are almost inevitably going to be removed or disrupted during a copper theft.
Similarly, problems can also arise where Telcos are operating predominantly copper local access networks with small quantities of fibre in their networks. With theft from Telco networks increasing in both frequency and severity, a recent theft of 2000m of copper from the BT network in Yeovil in Somerset took four days to repair, at an estimated cost of £100,000.
Cordons of protection
A second consideration are the cordons of protection. External cable plant is an inherently difficult asset to protect, whether from theft, vandalism or damage from adjacent works. An approach frequently adopted has been to co-locate vulnerable optical fibre cables with other assets which command more respect. However as metal theft increases, this approach needs to be reviewed to account for new circumstances. While there are some non-metallic assets which are still very useful in providing a cordon of protection (modern gas pipelines, for example, contain no metal and have an excellent deterrent value), many others, such as electricity cables, railways and tramways, are now more of a ‘cordon of attrition’ than a ‘cordon of protection’ due to metal theft.
In part two of my blog, I’ll be looking at how physical protection, along with monitoring and intrusion technology, could both act as deterrents to would-be thefts.
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By Mike Ainger
Mike was appointed to the position of Chief Operating Officer in 2007, having joined as Operations Director in 2004. His role combines responsibility for design, delivery and operation of network solutions for Geo’s customers with management of Geo’s Major Project business.More posts by this author