DIN standard 18220: A missed opportunity to speed up the expansion of the fibre optic network?
To provide uniform rules for laying fibre optic cables at low depths, meaning above the regular depth or above the planum, in the context of the expansion of the fibre optic networks, DIN 18220, “Trenching, milling and ploughing procedures for laying empty pipe infrastructures and fibre optic cables for telecommunications networks”, was published on 28 July 2023. In an expert interview with Dr. Thorsten Späth, head of egeplast Product Management, Dipl.-Ing. Meinolf Rameil, Technical Director of Tracto-Technik, explains the benefits and disadvantages of the new standard.
The new DIN 18220 is generally welcomed by the industry, but also viewed critically by some. For although a standard for the special forms of open trench construction included is certainly useful and important, the question of trenchless methods remains open. In an interview with Dr. Thorsten Späth, Head of egeplast Product Management Dipl.-Ing. Meinolf Rameil, Technical Managing Director at Tracto-Technik, took a clear stand on the topic.
Thorsten Späth: Overall: What do you make of the DIN 18220 standard?
Meinolf Rameil: In principle, it is appropriate and important to define standards for the special procedures in DIN 18220. This is the absolute precondition for allowing these alternatives to classical open-trench construction to become state-of-the art. However, the big shortcoming of this standard is that it fails to take the entire segment of trenchless installation methods into account. This way, a significant opportunity for ensuring that these modern approaches (which are very suited for expanding the fibre optic network) are used more frequently than currently has been wasted.
Do you expect that failure to mention trenchless installation methods will have a negative impact on their role in the expansion of the fibre optic network?
Yes, I think you could interpret the standard to imply that only the approaches covered by it can be used as an alternative to an open trench.
Compared to the traditional open-trench construction using excavators, trenching methods offer certain advantages and therefore should be included in such a standard. But why does it not include any rules on the trenchless methods? Quite frequently, these are preferable not only from the economical, but—even more importantly—from the ecological viewpoint. A standard which fails to include these modern approaches does the goal of achieving a speedy, cost-efficient and most of all sustainable expansion of the fibre optic network a disservice.
How big would you judge the impact or significance of this standard within this complex thematic complex?
I do not expect that the failure to cover the trenchless methods in the DIN 18220 standard will have any immediate impact on the utilization of these methods. What I do deem to be absolutely realistic, though, is a certain degree of market distortion—which I certainly do not deem to be intentional.
However, in the short run, politics and trade associations will shift the focus of attention to the standard. For municipalities and telecom companies, there will be – appropriately so – trainings and comprehensive ways to obtain more information will be made available. As a result of this, the approaches covered in the DIN 18220 standard will automatically be included in calls for tenders for frequently and applied more often. By implication, this constitutes a disadvantage for the trenchless methods.
In your eyes just the opposite development should be pursued?
No question. Trenchless construction methods such as horizontal flush drilling or using a drilling rocket, should be applied much more frequently when installing fibre optic networks. We need solutions in this area which involve minimal encroachment on the surface above the cable run. Nature, people, residential areas, road traffic, businesses and companies—trenchless methods help minimise the impairments and stand for short construction periods, low space requirements and cost-efficient execution.
What should the standard have looked like from your point of view?
On my opinion, the need for a comprehensive family of standards is obvious. This way, all alternative laying methods could be covered—also for regular depth.
Hearing you mention regular depth. Do you see any disadvantages in laying at low depths?
Despite its advantage, even laying cables at low depth constitutes a massive blow for a formerly intact infrastructure. Occasionally, it takes just a few months following the completion of the construction works before the negative consequences become clear. In addition to frost damages, changes in the level of property or soil displacement related to the body of the road or street give rise to the known issues.
For the installed fibre optic cables, low depths imply a constant risk of damages. Subsequent other construction tasks require more effort, in some cases, it can even become necessary to reinstall the line. In addition to that, what is lacking is a comprehensive line register documenting the exact location of the fibre optics lines, which causes the risk of damages or grid failures to increase.