AFL Telecommunications Europe Ltd.

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by AFL Telecommunications Europe Ltd.'s best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from AFL Telecommunications Europe Ltd. is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Highlighting best practice
26 | AFL
Paul Bennett, general manager
Optical fibre
Founded in 1984 as a joint American-Japanese venture, now
wholly owned by Fujikura Ltd, AFL has been developing
and supplying innovative solutions for rolling out fibre optic
networks for many years. In this article, Paul Bennett, general
manager for AFL European division, touches on a couple of
market-leading technologies that can significantly reduce the
cost of building optical fibre networks.
The hugely increased mobile data speeds that will come with the next generation
of wireless technology significantly shorten the distance a mobile phone can be
from a mast to work effectively. The range for 5G networks will be a few hundred
feet rather than several miles as it is for 4G networks. This means new, smaller,
antennae need building at street corners, along motorways and railways and lots
of fibre optic cable needs installing to connect them and carry the data. In short,
delivering new technologies such as these needs significant government and private
investment in costly infrastructure and this is where AFL can help.
The technology
SkyWrap® – The fastest way to build a fibre optic network is to install cable
onto an existing overhead infrastructure. Power utilities have extensive overhead
networks that transmit electricity across the country and then distribute it out to
businesses and households.
In many cases they are a better option than digging up roads or pulling cables into
ducts, but how do you overcome the challenge of developing a cable for this harsh
environment and how do you install it?
»General manager: PaulBennett
»Established in 1984
»Based in Swindon, Wiltshire,
with headquarters in Duncan,
South Carolina
»Services: Design, manufacture,
installation and supply of fibre
optic cable solutions
»No. of employees: 70 in the
UK, over 4,300 worldwide
27AFL |
SkyWrap is a retrofit cable system for
installation on overhead power lines
that is unique to AFL. The system
consists of three key components:
the cable, the accessories and the
installation equipment.
The cable is a small dielectric cable
capable of holding up to 96 optical
fibres. It uses specially developed jacket
materials that make it very tough. It
can withstand:
»lightning strikes and short circuits on
the power line;
»operating temperature extremes of
–50°C to +75°C;
»sunlight, ice and wind for over 30
It’s installed onto the earthwire or
phase conductor of the power line
using a remote controlled wrapping
machine, with a small specialist team
installing over three miles per day.
Turning the power off is costly for any
electricity company, so in many cases
the cable is installed live-line.
Specially developed accessories clamp
the SkyWrap cable to the earthwire
or phase conductor and guide it over
tower tops. If the cable is installed
on an electricity-carrying phase
conductor, an optical insulator is used
so that the cable can be safely handled
and connected on the ground even
though it is in contact with the live
power line.
Many UK power utilities initially
installed optical fibre cable on their
overhead networks for internal
control and communication needs.
However, the typical bandwidth of
these systems requires only one or two
optical fibres in a cable that can hold
up to 96, giving them the opportunity
to lease the other fibres to telecoms
operators or even start their own
telecoms divisions. The National Grid
Company (NGC) installed over 1,000
miles of SkyWrap on their transmission
lines in the nineties, creating a
telecommunications company which
was split out to form Energis. It floated
on the London Stock Exchange in
1997, and entered the FTSE 100
before later being acquired by another
operator. This network remains in use
to thisday.
SkyWrap crossing the
Suez Canal
The opportunity
to leverage
overhead power
lines for optical
network builds
has never been
Highlighting best practice
28 | AFL
Today the opportunity to leverage
overhead power lines for optical
network builds has never been greater.
Bandwidth demand is driving fibre to
the home (FTTh) rollouts across Europe.
The EU has issued a directive to open
up alternative networks such as power
lines to build them on. Countries such
as Italy and Ireland have large-scale
FTTh rollouts ongoing, using state-
owned power company overhead
electricity networks.
SpiderWeb Ribbon® – Being part
of a Japanese-owned technology
company with an American leadership
team provides AFL with access to
cutting-edge, world-class product
R&D, as well as the vision and drive
to commercialise them to enable
customers to share in the benefits they
can bring. Perhaps the best example of
this is a new optical fibre technology
called SpiderWeb Ribbon (SWR) which
is used in making ultra-high density
fibre optic cables.
SpiderWeb Ribbon is 12 optical
fibres connected by an intermittent
UV-curable resin. The beauty of this
construction is that the 12 optical
fibres can be bunched tightly together
without the need to separate and
protect the fibres in tubes allowing for
cable designs that fit an incredibly high
number of fibres into a very small cable
This gives operators some great
opportunities to save money:
»Last available duct: Very often
operators are faced with having
one usable duct left in the network
in which they can only install a
traditional 144 fibre optical cable.
By choosing an SWR cable they can
install a cable with up to 1,728 fibres
in the same duct. This enables them
to add more bandwidth to their
network and removes or defers for
years the significant cost of digging
up the road and installing new ducts.
»Leased duct: If the operator is leasing
rather than owning the duct, they
are typically charged on a per duct
basis. By installing an SWR cable
into a leased duct they can sell many
times more bandwidth for the same
leasing cost.
»High fibre count connections:
Datacentres are often built in clusters
on a campus. Connections between
them requires the installation of
multiple high fibre count optical
cables. Using a single SWR cable
saves the significant expense of
installing three or four standard
»Restricted access: The other key
benefit to SWR cables is that when
jointing cables, the optical fibres
are spliced 12 at a time rather than
one at a time, so instead of three
days to join a high fibre count cable,
an operator can now be finished
in six to eight hours and move
onto the next job. Apart from the
time and cost saving, this opens
up the possibility of installing and
maintaining ultra-high fibre count
cables in areas with restricted access,
such as alongside rail tracks and in
underground tunnelsystems.
SWR technology is now standard in
Japan and being widely adopted in
North America. Here in the UK and
Europe its benefits are just starting to
be realised.
The service
AFL’s European division manufactures
its fibre optic cables in the UK and
supports the technology with a
complete range of cable splicing,
test and inspection equipment. It
is also unique in having a project
services division that delivers turnkey
installation services to power, utility
and telecommunications customers in
the UK, Europe and around the world.
Incredibly high
number of
fibres into a
very small
cable diameter
SpiderWeb Ribbon cable

This article was sponsored by AFL Telecommunications Europe Ltd.. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng.

Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng

This year’s Parliamentary Review reflects on a tumultuous and extraordinary year, globally and nationally. As well as being an MP, I am a keen student of history, and I am conscious that 2020 would mark the end of an era. It will be remembered as the year in which we concluded Brexit negotiations and finally left the European Union. Above all, it will be remembered as the year of Covid-19.

In our fight against the pandemic, I am delighted that our vaccination programme is beginning to turn the tide – and I pay tribute to the British businesses, scientists and all those who have helped us to achieve this. But the virus has dealt enormous damage, and we now have a duty to rebuild our economy.

We must ensure that businesses are protected. We have made more than £350 billion available to that end, with grants, business rates relief and our furlough scheme supporting more than 11 million people and jobs in every corner of the country, maintaining livelihoods while easing the pressure on employers. The next step is to work with business to build back better and greener, putting the net zero carbon challenge at the heart of our recovery. This is a complex undertaking, but one which I hope will be recognised as a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Through the prime minister’s ten point plan for a green industrial revolution, we can level up every region of the UK, supporting 250,000 green jobs while we accelerate our progress towards net zero carbon emissions.

With our commitment to raise R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP and the creation of the Advanced Research & Invention Agency, we are empowering our fantastic researchers to take on groundbreaking research, delivering funding with flexibility and speed. With this approach, innovators will be able to work with our traditional industrial heartlands to explore new technologies, and design and manufacture the products on which the future will be built – ready for export around the globe.

And I believe trade will flourish. We are a leading nation in the fight against climate change. As the host of COP26 this year, we have an incredible opportunity to market our low-carbon products and expertise. Our departure from the EU gives us the chance to be a champion of truly global free trade; we have already signed trade deals with more than 60 countries around the world.

As we turn the page and leave 2020 behind, I am excited about the new chapter which Britain is now writing for itself, and for the opportunities which lie ahead of us.
Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy