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Planning a Fiber Network with Challenger

Meet Challenger, one of Merit’s latest Marketplace vendors. Challenger is a privately held telecommunications contractor based out of Jackson, MI that specializes in interconnecting buildings of any size. Challenger’s co-founders, Rick Neil and Carl Wesolek, offered a handful of thoughts when it comes to some of the initial considerations that should be explored when planning a fiber network.

Rick & Carl: There are quite a few things that should be considered, but first of all, you have to figure out what the wants and needs are for your fiber network project. Think about things like phones, cameras, door access control, and interconnecting buildings. You should also consider hiring consultants who have set up or built similar networks before. One way of ensuring that you find the right contractor is to seek out recommendations from others who have had the same type of project done.

How much money do you need to allocate for the build?
Once you know your needs, then a number can be obtained. Hire a consultant who has written and filed for grants and stimulus money before, if desired. This can be a very time-consuming venture.

What kind of network are you going to build?
Is it going to be just inside of one building, all underground, all aerial or some kind of combination of these? A good consultant can help make that decision. You will need to have specifications for the fiber equipment, underground and/or aerial, as to how you decide you want the plant built. This could also include how many conduits are you going to install in the underground, what kind or size of vaults, how will the buildings will be entered. Specifications should also include some form of future-proofing – will the network we need right now still work for us in 5 years? Is it expandable?

Who is going to complete the engineering and permitting?
Engineering is very important because the maps have to be correct, and you want your network to be placed within a municipal right-of-way. The same company should be able to permit with the proper authorities, IE: MDOT, City and County, etc. Permitting can be another long and expensive procedure that can greatly affect how a project is designed.

How many fiber strands do I need to run to each location?
Once you determine what the needs are, then it becomes easier to know what size of cable(s) is/are needed. Make sure to check your records! We find that many of our customers do not know what cables go to what sites if they already have an existing network. We come in and have to reverse-engineer the project. Good record-keeping upfront saves time and money down the road. You may already have several pieces in place that can work in a new layout, saving both time and money.

How much maintenance will be necessary?
There will always be ongoing maintenance needs no matter if you have indoor, aerial, or underground networks. Some people think that once the construction is completed, a network runs forever without any maintenance, but that is not the case.

What happens if the fiber gets cut or does not work?
Whether it’s squirrels or mice chewing on the cables, fallen power lines burning through it, car/pole accidents, or your neighbor putting in a new mailbox post, there needs to be a plan in place for inevitable emergency repairs. You either need a staff member or contractor that can be called in to respond to those. Sometimes it may be as simple as a cord that got unplugged. Other times it could be something far more serious. Make sure you have a plan, which should include instructions on how to test the system, determine where the problem is, and get it repaired as soon as possible.

Through their listing in the Merit Marketplace, Challenger offers a 5% discount on all services, including engineering, fiber construction, fiber splicing and testing. To learn more, email [email protected] or visit merit.edu/Marketplace.