Mercury Communications is negotiating a deal with the Central Electricity Generating Board, CEGB, to share an aerial fibre optic network system, which would increase its geographic coverage of the UK market and reduce its dependence on British Telecom’s network. If the deal comes off it will reinforce the UK’s successful programme to install fibre optic cable, where other European countries, such as Germany and France, are holding back on optical fibre orders in favour of obsolescent coaxial cable. At the heart of the deal between the Cable & Wireless Plc subsidiary and the CEGB is a new development in fibre optic cable achieved by STC Telecommunications, which enables cable to be slung between electricity pylons without the need to switch off the power lines during installation. This feature is, according to STC, what gives the product, called Fibrespan, the edge over two competitive aerial systems from BICC and Racam. A decision between Mercury and the CEGB is imminent because the electricity board needs to install its communications network soon, and if Mercury wants to join in, it will need a high fibre optic cable count, around 24 within an array, while CEGB’s needs for its own communications will be lower. Questions still remain over who should own and install the cable – whether Mercury should lease capacity from CEGB or vice versa. In theory, after 1990 when Mercury’s duopoly with British Telecom ends, the CEGB could wave Mercury goodbye and become a telecommunications operator in its own right. STC has carried out evaluation tests to UK standards over the past year at CEGB’s research laboratories and is talking to two big North American cable manufacturers about licences to the technology. Fibrespan is non-electrical and coated with a thermoplastic sheath. It has been tested to handle temperatures of between -40 and +70 degrees centigrade and wind speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. Its span capacity is 350 yards on average in the UK, 500 yards over flat spaces and 700 yards in valleys or river crossings. STC says it has capacity to manufacture over 125,000 fibre miles per year at its factory at Harlow, Essex and a newly established expanded plant at Newport. Cables represent around 20% of STC Telecommunications’ business, itself representing around 20% of STC Plc.
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