2006: Newer, bigger pipes for TSTT’s data

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Above: Cedric Cole, TSTT’s VP for Customer Care. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

BitDepth 514, published on March 07, 2006. Reproduced as background reference material for a current story.

You might call it an annoyance, an obstruction and a good excuse for getting to work late. TSTT calls it rehabilitation and modernisation, and some if it’s going to be coming to a street near you.
Most of TSTT’s hardline infrastructure is underground and it’s getting old. Laid in the 1980’s it serves hundreds of thousands of customers, a phone book’s worth, in fact, each expecting a dial tone when they pick up their receivers.
There have been some problems with that, and in some areas, the problem is both chronic and difficult to overcome.

The reason is copper. The old copper network was the state of the art when it was laid, but metal is a fussy material, particularly when it’s buried underground with numerous joins, some of which are between different eras of telephone technology.

It’s these joins that tend to cause problems with landlines. Water seeps into the lines, wreaking havoc with the conductivity of the signal and sends TSTT’s people into the field, ripping up the asphalt searching for the problem.
Now TSTT is planning a more complete solution to the problem, according to its Vice President, Consumer Care, Cedric Cole, by replacing miles of copper cabling with fibre optic cable.

Fibre, along with new equipment to support it will cost the company TT$1,147,200 for every five miles it lays, versus copper, which costs the company TT$1,606,720 and eliminates the element of theft, which has plagued the telephone company’s copper lines in remote areas.
The new fibre cables have no problems with conductivity and offer far greater bandwidth with increases in capacity, estimated by Cole to multiply existing data transfer by a factor of 100 in the same space that the old copper lines occupied.

That’s the modernisation phase of the project, which has already been largely completed in the area designated by TSTT as District One, from Morvant Junction to Chaguaramas.
The rehabilitation phase, about which I must confess to having some reservations, replaces older copper in problem areas with newer runs and that feels like replacing a problem with a problem-to-be.

Copper still has a role in the final “loop length” of TSTT’s wired delivery system, the run that goes from the remote terminal, those grey boxes you find on street corners that the company’s technicians often have their heads buried in, to your house.
Why not run fibre all the way to your home? It’s possible, but only in high density situations like a gated community or high-rise towers where it makes sense to place a remote terminal on the premises before splitting the cables out individually.
The last phase of the modernisation project is what Mr Cole describes as the “unbundling of the local loop,” the severing of TSTT from its customers at the doorstep.

That’s accomplished with a new box called a Network Interface Device, which looks like a bigger version of the gray box that’s installed outside your house but operates differently and has much more impressive guts.
Under new telecommunications legislation, TSTT must allow customers choice on their landline providers as well and this smarter box allows signals from an alternative provider to connect to devices inside the home.
The only telecommunications provider on the poles alongside TSTT is Columbus, and it’s up to them whether they want to run their lines in parallel with TSTT or enter the customer’s home through the NID.

It also means that TSTT, the other holder of a licence to operate a cable channel, has a more efficient means of bringing an enhanced signal into the homes of customers.
Now all if all this sounds like a dream state, it probably is.
Much of this infrastructure work will take place over the next two years with a fever pitch of activity planned for high density areas like Chaguanas, San Fernando, Palmiste, San Juan, St Augustine and parts of Tobago which are scheduled to be done by the end of April.

And Cedric Cole, a gregarious bear of a guy, is much like the other senior technical management of TSTT that I’ve met, well-meaning and sober thinkers who seem to live in a very different world from TSTT’s big-spending and aggressive marketing arm.
With TT$606 million budgeted for this access development project and TT$200 million more for broadband development, it remains unclear how TSTT’s rivals, both present and future, will approach shared use of the new, big pipes the long time monopolist is laying for data and communications.