If you’re getting high-speed internet to your home or business, you likely have fiber optics to thank. In 2018, the quantity of fiber installed annually worldwide exceeded 500 million fiber-km for the first time, and according to Research and Markets, the fiber optics market in the U. S. was estimated at US$1.1 Billion in 2020.
Telecom companies and construction crews need to locate fiber optic cables before digging or risk expensive, time-consuming service outages. However, fiber has unique characteristics, both in composition and how it’s buried, that make locating a challenge. Luckily, copper clad steel (CCS) tracer wire is ideally suited to the task.
Contractors use tracer wire to locate underground utility assets like water pipes and sewer lines. The tracer wire is buried with the utilities, and crews use a transmitter to create a circuit along the wire and a receiver to pinpoint the wire’s (and the asset’s) location.
Legacy copper telecommunications cabling often didn’t require tracer wire. Copper is an excellent conductor, so crews could run a current directly through the copper cable to locate it. However, fiber optic cable is made of glass and cannot conduct an electrical current, necessitating tracer wire use.
Installers employ several techniques to bury fiber optic cable, which can create significant challenges for tracer wire:
Open Cut Installation. This method involves plowing open a path, then laying a conduit for the fiber optic cable. The tracer wire is taped to the outside of the conduit, and then the plowed path is filled in. Sometimes the fiber optic cable is laid without conduit, and the tracer wire is attached directly to the cable.
Blowing Fiber. In some cases, installers will use specialized machinery to blow fiber into the conduit at a rate of up to several hundred feet per minute. In this application, the tracer wire is attached to the fiber before being blown into the conduit.
Pulling Fiber. Contractors will sometimes pull fiber optic cable through the conduit. The tracer wire can either be attached to the fiber or pulled separately.
Directional Drilling. Installers use this burial method to lay cable under a road or creek. The tracer wire is attached to the conduit’s exterior (or directly to the fiber optic cable if no conduit is used) before drilling.
With limited tensile strength, traditional solid copper tracer wire can break, especially when pulled or blown through a conduit. Telecom installers often use three separate solid copper tracer wires to ensure that at least one makes it through the conduit unbroken.
Copper clad tracer wire, a solid steel core conductor with a concentrically clad copper coating, has a much higher tensile strength than traditional copper. In telecom applications, high-strength CCS tracer wire is about twice as strong as its all-copper counterpart. This strength allows telecom installers to use a single CCS tracer wire with confidence—and deliver significant cost savings.
While CCS wire is less flexible than solid copper, its greater pulling strength means that installers can use a thinner-gauge CCS tracer wire, effectively neutralizing copper’s flexibility advantage.
Besides greater strength, CCS tracer wire offers other benefits for telecom companies and high-volume users:
Lower cost and price predictability. CCS tracer wire is much less expensive than solid copper—in some cases, from 30-50%. The price of solid copper is also volatile, while CCS pricing is stable. Choosing CCS helps eliminate material cost overruns on long-term projects.
Reduced weight. Solid copper tracer wire is approximately 10% heavier than CCS wire. Using CCS makes for easier handling and can speed progress in the field and reduce shipping fees.
Lower risk of theft. With a high aftermarket value, solid copper is an attractive target for thieves and should be secured on the job site. CCS wire has limited scrap value and is generally not a theft risk.
Kris-Tech manufactures four strengths of CCS tracer wire, from dead soft annealed (with similar characteristics to solid copper) to an extra high strength tracer product that can withstand over 1,000 pounds of pulling pressure.
Our Kris-Tech CCS tracer wire is available in multiple gauges, non-standard lengths, smaller minimum runs, and with no cut or reel charges. Our ongoing performance testing ensures that our CCS tracer wire meets all applicable industry standards, including ASTM, NEMA, UL, and ICEA.
With its greater tensile strength, copper clad steel tracer wire addresses the unique challenges faced by fiber optics installers while also reducing project costs for telecom companies.