One of the things that we as contractors always stay alert to are new market opportunities. We’ve been teasing you with stories about the potential of fiber optic cables for people in the underground construction market for the past few months.

Now California is gearing up to take advantage of the speedof-light sensory properties of fiber optic cables, with Caltrans already programed with $2 billion in fiber projects to run along the state’s freeways and primary roads. The legislature is getting ready in its new session starting this month to add billions more to this market opportunity for folks deep in the underground construction universe.

Some of these projects will help close the “middle mile” gap in communications between internet server farms and local Internet Service Providers (ISP), both private and public. This effort is being pushed at the federal level with additional funding, particularly for rural and exurbs in the outer rings of metropolitan areas.

But the real zinger comes from fiber optic cables unintended consequences like the earthquake detection capabilities of these super thin strands of glass.

Here’s Why & How It Works

Fiber optic cables are bundles of glass fibers, each no thicker than a human hair, which carry information encoded in light. Each bundle has multiple strands of fiber, with lots of redundant fibers not in use for the primary signals and these extra, unused fibers provide the opportunity for other uses of the technology.

As you might suspect with tiny strings of glass, they break easily, creating a defect in the signal passing through the cable. These small, randomly oriented defects within the fibers act like tiny mirrors, scattering light. The deflection is triggered by equipment called “interrogators,” which work much like radars. Interrogators fire a laser pulse into an unused fiber and recording the pattern of reflections coming back from defects along the length of the cable. The returning signal builds a picture of a passing seismic wave, up to one hundred miles distant—instant earthquake warning monitors.

You see the potential, but how do you get into the act? One proven way is to make sure you keep alert to state-sponsored programs designed to bring local agencies up to steam on the technology. In most cases you can sign up as an attendee at these events, build your product knowledge on the opportunity and meet future customers at the same time.

Ask your municipal customers about these meetings and other learning opportunities. They will appreciate your interest. 

By Dave Sorem, P.E. ECA Government Affairs Chairman email: [email protected]