Monday, February 20, 2017

Handhole Frequently Asked Questions

As with most products in the telecom industry, product designs evolve at a rapid pace. Often times specifications are written based on outdated information. Old specifications make sourcing material difficult, especially when updated products meet or exceed the written spec.

In the case of handholes, the sales team at Comstar Supply faces an added level of difficulty. In addition to potentially outdated specifications, there are often assumptions made to the product's capability. Our sales team is trained to help you understand the applications for handholes and their ratings. On several occasions, we refused to provide a quote based on the unrealistic expectations for the design of the product. Ultimately those projects went back to the drawing board for an alternative solution.

Here are a few of the frequently asked questions and requests we receive for handhole opportunities.

Can I order a handhole with an AASHTO H-20 load rating?

No. The AASHTO "H" standards govern materials designed for "deliberate" traffic, such that would be used in the middle of a bridge. Those recognized materials are precast concrete and cast iron, among others. Precast concrete and cast iron are used for manholes, but handholes are composites.

Typically made of a polymer concrete composite, handholes fall outside the framework of AASHTO. Handholes are designed for "non-deliberate" traffic, and they fall under ANSI/SCTE 77 for performance standards.

Why are handholes often confused for AASHTO H-20?

The published test loads of composite handholes may exceed test loads of H-20 materials. Remember that handholes are made of composite material, not precast concrete. Some manufacturer's may claim that their product exceeds H-20, but they will be quick to tell you that the materials are not AASHTO recognized. As Hubbell Power Systems states, "A tremendous misunderstanding has been that if a product tested in excess of the design load, it was thought to be an acceptable product for the intended application. This is a gross oversight. There could be very minimal safety factors, and what does a 1, 10, or 1000 cycle test indicate? A false sense of security could lead to personal injury and/or equipment damage." In other words, buyer beware!

Can I put a steel or cast iron lid on a handhole in order to meet H-20?

We are aware of end users specifying handholes this way. Yes, you can install a steel lid, but it still will not be H-20. Handholes are designed and tested as a complete system under ANSI including the lid and base. So even if you put a steel lid onto a composite box, it is still a system including a composite box that is not governed under AASHTO. The inherent flexibility of steel as a lid may allow for additional cycles (i.e. more vehicular traffic) to the lid itself. However, either the added weight of the lid, or the lateral forces on the handhole in deliberate traffic, may cause it to fail.

What is the difference between design load and test load of a handhole?

The ANSI application tier number relates to a nominal design load multiplied by 1,000 pounds. For example, Tier 8 is 8 x 1000 pounds, or 8000 lbs. All ANSI tier loadings have a corresponding test load, which is 50% greater than the design load. The maximum deflection at the indicated design load shall be one half-inch for vertical tests, and a quarter-inch per foot of length for lateral tests.

Can I order locking lids or hardware for handholes?

Yes. We can offer "tamper-resistant" penta head bolts, anti-vibration systems and keyed locking mechanisms. The most popular locking mechanism on the market today is the Lockout Device.

Can I order a gasket and a closed bottom for my handhole?

Yes, but you would be better off with an above ground pedestal if you want the contents of your handhole to stay dry. Think about how many homeowners struggle with wet basements. Water will find a way.

Gaskets are only effective if they provide a positive seal around the entire inside of the ring. As soon as dirt and rocks compress the gasket, you will have water ingress. Odds are your handhole will encounter a lot of rocks and dirt during installation. If your handhole also has a closed bottom, this will significantly slow the draining process if water does get in. That's a double-whammy.

I hope this helps you to further understand handholes, but please call us if you have any further questions. Handholes are becoming more sought after for their reduced weight and cost for buried enclosures. As manufacturers try to drive value, handholes are becoming lighter and easier to use at the same test ratings. If you set your specifications to the ANSI Tier ratings, you should never worry about outdated handhole spec.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Top 5 Forgotten Items In Network Builds

A Brice Box Blog

How often do you travel and feel like you left your toothbrush, socks, or some other necessity at home? My wife bought me a checklist to use when I pack so I won't omit an essential item from my luggage. Of course I use those items every day, but without that checklist, the odds are high that I'll forget something.

Similarly, if you don't specify fiber splice sleeves on the bill of material, there is a good chance you or your contractor will not order sleeves for that job. Fortunately, Comstar Supply stocks plenty of splice sleeves. Unfortunately, we're not in every major town like a Home Depot.

I polled our inside sales staff on the items they are normally asked to ship out next day air to help complete projects on time. Here are the results:

1. Duct Couplers. When pulling out a 6000 foot reel of 1-1/4" HDPE innerduct, you might not expect to use many couplers on the job. In reality the lengths of bore are much shorter, going for 1000' typically at a time. Accounting for "as-builts" can be one of the more challenging aspects of outside plant construction, and ordering 10-20% more couplers is usually less expensive than having a few shipped next-day air delivery. Not to mention, ordering couplers in advance will save valuable downtime on the job.

If you're not sure what type of couplers you should use for your application, check out our video series comparing the different types of couplers for HDPE.

2. Duct Pulling Eyes. I once joked with a co-worker about how some suppliers like to tout "custom engineered products." In reality, that custom engineering often results in an additional part in the box to suit the needs of the build, much like adding lettuce and tomato to your burger. That's not engineering; that's just customer service! Based on this marketing "genius," we proposed offering a duct reel with a pulling eye already installed in the end.

To this day we laugh about our "engineered solution" for what we call "Finnerduct." Maybe there is a need after all for this solution based on the amount of pulling eyes we ship out last minute. Compare that to custom fiber assemblies sold over 50 feet that come equipped with a pulling eye for convenience. Why not have the same feature for duct?

3. Duct Plugs. I'm starting to see a theme here. Whether you need to plug an unoccupied conduit after it's installed, or seal the voids around cables, we see a lot of last minute plug orders. We stock a wide array of blank plugs, as well as simplex and innerduct organizer plugs. Often times the job isn't complete until plugs are installed, but we rarely see them specified on the original bill of materials.

4. Fiber Optic Cleaning Supplies. As awareness grows for proper fiber optic hygiene, I would say the tides are turning for this product group. Many customers are incorporating fiber cleaning into their operating procedures and ordering plans. Whether you need supplies for splice preparation or connector inspection cleaning, Comstar offers a full line of wet and dry fiber cleaning products.

Deltec™ System
5. Tie Wraps. In our industry, cable management is paramount. Often the technical requirements for tie wraps exceed what you find on store shelves. Comstar Supply supports a full line of industrial-grade, UV, delrin strapping systems for aerial construction, commonly known as the Deltec™ system. We also carry color-coded tie wraps to help maintain TIA-598 fiber color identification for expressed buffer tubes in splice closures and termination panels. In addition to cable tie wraps, we offer a wealth of fiber-specific cable clips to assist with mounting drop cables to structures.

Inevitably, we all overlook the items we need everyday. I hope this blog brings new light to writing your next bill of material. Can you think of anything we forgot to add to this list that might round out a top ten?

Deltec is a trademark of Thomas & Betts Corporation.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fiber Optic Cable Remains Number 1 Resource in Telecom for 2017

Pressure is increasing on both cable content and service providers, as consumers are now more willing to cut the cord on traditional television providers. Telecom carriers are experiencing subscription declines as mobile phones become more ubiquitous. And even consumer electronics companies are feeling pressure as more users choose to bypass ownership of desktop computers, utilizing their phones like portable computers.

In fact, a recent special report from The Economist Intelligence Unit, titled Telecoms in 2017, summarizes that “telecom companies will seek new sources of revenue as traditional streams dwindle and pressure from growing mobile broadband usage mounts in 2017.”

With each of these trends, the one constant is that broadband uptake is on the rise. To keep up with both consumer and business sector demands, network infrastructure investment continues to rise—and the delivery mechanism continues to be fiber optic cable.

The market drivers increasing demand are also putting pressure on cable and glass manufacturers, which is leading to long lead times for fiber. To ensure a carrier has the materials and cable needed for these network investments, proper planning is necessary to maximize time and revenue. The key to combat any mitigating factors for carriers and contractors is to plan for your fiber needs 12-18 months in advance. Allocating fiber with a well-positioned distributor should be your number one priority. This will eliminate price volatility, lead time fluctuations and supplier uncertainty.

Comstar Supply is well positioned with fiber and all of the major product lines that accompany installation. We have created a customized solution that takes the guesswork out of your outside plant needs and allows for a smooth transition from planning to construction. We work with our customers to tailor a system that allows us to distribute fiber facilities monthly based on your needs, while allowing for additions or subtractions on your orders. This arrangement not only provides the availability of your most critical resource (fiber), but also allows flexibility regardless of market conditions.

To learn more about putting Comstar Supply’s fiber allocation to work for you, please contact us today.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Standing Out in the Crowd

2016 was another turbulent year within the telecommunications industry. Increasingly fierce competition, strategic mergers and acquisitions, and continued investment in broadband infrastructure from traditional wireline and wireless carriers alike, contributed to the growth of this sector.

How a company differentiates itself—while strengthening revenue and margins—remains a constant challenge. A growing trend is to deliver a more personalized, consistent customer experience to meet the ever-demanding consumer needs. This means having a strategy in place that’s easy, effective, and repeatable for the consumer. With 89% of consumers willing to switch providers as a result of a poor experience, according to Forrester Research, providing this kind of value is no longer a luxury—it’s a necessity.

Exacerbating this issue is that broadband speeds have now become simply a commodity. It’s not enough for carriers to simply sell the value-add of more megabits and greater speeds. Most carriers can match each other bit for bit, network for network, and fiber for fiber.
At Comstar Supply, we are putting this idea of customer care to work for our customers. We play a strategic role in our customer’s business by emphasizing communication, which enables an information exchange on new products, trends, industry news and other important information impacting customers. We emphasize response times and project support—working together with customers to ensure on-time delivery and order accuracy. And we’ve made recent investments into both systems and personnel to help manage and deliver on our promise of 100% customer satisfaction.

Who would you rather work with? A company that’s been doing business the same old way for decades? Or a company that thinks about your distribution and logistics in a whole new way? Put Comstar Supply to work for you today. Contact us today to learn more.

Fiber Splicing: Fusion Vs. Mechanical - The Rematch

As a means of keeping touch with our sales force, we adopted what is known at Comstar as the Brice Box. That box is chock full of good information on our products and suppliers. This blog is the first in a series of topics that are born from material in our Brice Box.

The cost of fiber optic fusion splicing machines dropped over 50% in the last five years. That leaves me wondering, why would anyone still use mechanical fiber splices? With factory polished connectors and low cost fusion splicing, there are more high quality, affordable options than ever for mating two pieces of fiber.

It’s no secret that fusion splicing has a higher up front cost, but a lower cost per splice when
compared to mechanical splicing. What you may not know is the new prices of fusion splicers have significantly reduced the upfront cost of fusion splicing. By the time you have used 300-500 mechanical splices at $10 apiece, you could have purchased a handheld fusion splicer kit. Below are examples of the upfront cost for the various methods of joining fiber.

Mechanical Splice Kit
Mechanical Fiber Connector Kit w/ Cleaver
Mechanical Splice Kit w/ Cleaver
Fixed V-Groove Splicer w/ Cleaver
Core Alignment Splicer Kit
Mechanical Fiber Splice

You might say, "I doubt I will do more than 100 splices this year. Why should I pay $3500 for fusion equipment I will hardly use?" I could spit figures at you about the proliferation of fiber and watch your eyes glaze over. After all, this ever-connected world needs to run on fiber. Feed the fiber monsters! You know them: Big Data, FTTP, LTE and IoT!

However, I will not bore you with statistics ripped from the latest industry infographic. There are far better reasons for justifying the purchase of a $3500 machine for 100 splices in a year. The quality and durability of a fusion splice are far superior to a mechanical splice.

Since a mechanical splice are two fiber ends clamped in a body, mated in index matching gel, the fibers could be pulled out of the splice. In contrast, the fusion splicing machine creates an arc that fuses the two ends of the fiber to make them a single strand. Fusion splices have excellent tensile properties, and are reinforced against lateral forces with steel or ceramic strength members.

A fusion splice touts much higher performance than a mechanical splice. Below are values that compare not only splices, but values from current field-installable mechanical fiber connectors. I’m showing connector values since the skills required to complete a field-installable connector are essentially the same as mechanical splicing. If the loss values of a mechanical splice are acceptable, why not have the added convenience of a point of connectivity if located inside an enclosure? Granted, you will need to terminate both ends of the fiber you are joining in a bulkhead, but there are other benefits to field-installable mechanical connectors.

With simple tools, you can instantly verify the quality of the mechanical connector installation. Whereas validation of a mechanical splice requires an OTDR trace or Optical Power Meter reading on the span to confirm the quality of splice.

Typical Insertion Loss
Typical Back Reflectance
Typical Cost
Mechanical Splice
0.2 dB – 0.75 dB
<-40 dB / <-60 dB Angle Polish
$10 - $30
Fusion Splice
None on a successful splice
$0.35 - $0.50
Factory Polish, Field-Installable Connector
0.35 dB
<-50dB / <-60 Angle Polish
$10 - $15

Modern fusion splicers are also automated with instant verification of the quality of splice performed. It’s not as accurate as a full OTDR trace would be, but it is an excellent indication of how well the machine is operating with the fibers being spliced. Most machines have on board instructions and diagnostics to assist the user with operation and maintenance.

There is yet another feather in the cap of ownership of a fusion splicing machine. The major suppliers of fusion splicers have 24/7, 365 support lines. If something goes wrong with your unit in the middle of a network outage in a snowstorm, they are there to help. They understand that fiber networks are the lifeblood of communications today, so the support they offer is what you wish you had from the DMV or appliance center.

At Comstar Supply, we support all of the major fusion splicer manufacturers, and we are ready to help you with any questions you may have. Before you splice that next fiber, let’s take some time to look at the different options available today. I’m sure you’ll be glad we did.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Resolutions for the New Year

It's that time of year again. The new year offers a chance to examine habits and make any changes that could increase productivity, improve relationships or generally make our lives better in 2017. This is not only true for our personal lives, but our business lives and careers as well.
  1. Scrutinize Your Strategic Distribution Partnerships
    Managing strategic partnerships is complex given each department within your organization has different goals, objectives, and a myriad suppliers and partners. Specific to infrastructure construction and the role of a distributor, selecting the right partner is critical to the support of your business.

    Having the right distribution partner and working with them to play a more critical role in the planning and delivery of outside plant materials can be a true differentiator for your company. If you are not getting these results today, it might be time to look elsewhere.
  2. Start Planning for Your Next Procurement Now
    It’s important to recognize the strategic role distributors can play. The relationship between distributor/customer should be equally beneficial, with mutual sharing of information. These types of conversations enable continuous value exchange and are often the most critical step of engagement.

    Whether it’s allocating fiber connectivity during turbulent production times or stocking critical hardware that can be drop-shipped on a moment’s notice, strategic conversations between a business and a distributor ensure adequate stock and timely delivery of outside plant materials.
  3. Communicate More, Not Less
    The relationship between distributor and customer should include sharing from each respective field of expertise. What drives consumer demand versus the mitigating factors in fiber production are often two very different conversations. Compelling business factors from both the distributor and customer should be communicated appropriately for crucial support of each other’s respective business goals.
The best and easiest resolutions are kept when you have help from others. Comstar Supply is here to help you keep your resolutions by providing the critical conversations you need to build your business for success in 2017.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Bandwidth Growth Driving Network Deployments

Consumer and business customer demand for high speed bandwidth has never been greater. From federally-funded projects to small cell buildouts, telecom network infrastructure improvements have become an arm’s race for technology organizations.

In addition, key telcos and other providers recently announced ambitious network expansion plans. According to a recent article from Fierce Telecom, AT&T and CenturyLink have set some ambitious targets for their FTTH deployments.

“During the second quarter, AT&T had only 2.2 million homes passed with fiber, a figure the telco expects to ramp to 2.6 million by the end of 2016. AT&T will need to build fiber to an additional 9.9 million homes by 2019, illustrating an acceleration in its overall network investment.”

“CenturyLink expects to reach 11 million premises at 40 Mbps or higher, including 2 million GPON-enabled addressable households and businesses, by year-end 2017. Looking toward 2019, CenturyLink forecasts that 11 million of its addressable broadband-enabled units will be able to access 100 Mbps or higher speeds.”

With this demand, carriers will not only need to have adequate access to outside plant materials and equipment. Comstar Supply has built an extensive OSP inventory from industry-leading suppliers to help carriers and contractors deliver high-speed broadband and power networks.

Fiber Splice Trailer at Comstar City

For instance, Comstar not only can supply a splice truck, but help customers fully equip it with the necessary tools and equipment for less than other distributors. From a fiber splicing tool kit, to splicer, test sets, cleaning supplies and other essentials, we have you covered. To start equipping your teams, visit the Fiber Splice Trailer at Comstar City.