In June, a Gainesville business called TRAXyL installed a fully functioning fiber optic network into the surface layer of concrete in the parking lot at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church and school in Warrenton. It’s a new, non-intrusive technique and the first embedding installation in the nation.
The company workers created a machine that can lay down fiber cables in the first couple millimeters of paved surfaces, and TRAXyL has both the machine and embedding process patented. Keith Turner, vice president of sales, said that the company “created a new right of way.”
“What we did at St. John’s in Warrenton is where we did our first installation with that process in the country, and we gave them their own small little proprietary fiber network [between] six buildings,” Turner said. “We basically did the job in two days, which is pretty unheard of.”
Bill Helsel, director of maintenance for St. John, said that the installation was quick and easy. TRAXyL installed a network of four cables with 12 fibers each; they were placed on the parking lot pavement between the buildings.
“Nothing got disrupted,” Helsel said. “That was the beauty of this process.” He also said that the process had huge cost savings for St. John.
Fiber optic cables are glass fibers about the size of a strand of hair. The cables are used to send data and create data networks in which the data signals travel as light through the glass fiber. “That’s what makes fiber the gold standard,” Turner said.
The traditional process for installing fiber optic cables typically involves digging a trench or cutting through concrete slabs. It can take days or even weeks to install the cables and replace the landscaping before the roads are ready to drive on again. It involves more labor and machinery and is more expensive than TRAXyL’s method, Turner said.
TRAXyL’s embedding process involves etching out a few millimeters in the surface layer of the pavement, laying the fiber cables down, and adding a topcoat called methyl methacrylate that is UV cured and dried within 30 minutes, ready for cars to drive over it. The fiber cables are essentially painted onto the pavement; the whole process is done with the patented machine, which can lay 1,000 feet of fiber cable in one hour.
The beginning stages of TRAXyL’s patented machine began in 2017 with designing and testing the process of laying fiber cables directly on pavements. From 2017 to 2020, the company applied for and received three patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, along with numerous awards for the technique.
Since 2017, the company has installed working fiber in eight states across the country, with Warrenton being the home of the first-ever embedding process.
The embedding process does not degrade the strength of the concrete. The MMA material has a “stronger bond to asphalt than asphalt has to itself,” Turner said.
As well as keeping the integrity of the pavement, the MMA does not leave the pavement uneven, so when the embedding process is completed, the surface is as smooth as it was before, making it ADA compliant. That means that a person in a wheelchair would have no issues moving on a sidewalk that may have fiber cables embedded into it.
The finished product at St. John’s is a completely flush installation, meaning the fiber cables go virtually unnoticed on the roads. Only a black line is left, and Turner said that the company has begun working to color match the finish material with the pavement material, so no black line will be visible in future installations.
The internet service provider for the St. John’s installation was Comcast, the integrator was Croft Communications and the network administrator was Vision Tech Group in Harrisonburg, Va.
Reach Abby Zimmardi at firstname.lastname@example.org