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The Basics

The essential information on facts, stories, and principles in the wire and cable industry.

11/4/21 – We take rapid communication for granted with 5G cell phone service and high-speed Internet. But all technological marvels tend to have modest but ambitious beginnings.

The first transatlantic telegraph cable was laid in 1858 by the Anglo-American Telegraph Company, which was founded just for this project by businessman Cyrus West Field. The cable connected Newfoundland to Ireland and had a capacity of transmitting a few words per hour. The first official communication was a message in Morse code from Queen Victoria to President James Buchanan. 

The cable broke down a few weeks later, and two more attempts were made to provide a successful, lasting connection, which was achieved in 1866. That’s when the speed improved to 6–8 words per minute. But this “faster” rate came at the high price of $10 per word for a 10-word minimum. $100 back then was about two months’ pay for a skilled laborer. The primary users were entities with big pockets, such as the British and American governments and large corporations.

In 1956, TAT-1, the first transatlantic telephone cable system with a total cable length of 326 nautical miles, had a capacity of 36 telephone channels. The inaugural call linked AT&T and FCC company officials in New York with officials in Ottawa and London. By 1976, cables carried 4,000 telephone channels, and in 1996 the capacity was 2 x 5 Gbit/s. Expanding exponentially, by 2001 the Atlantic VSNL (TGN) had a capacity of 2 x 2,520 Gbit/s.

Those early growth years of technology were essential to being where we are now, and yes, advances come with a heady price, but what we take for granted today would have long been considered totally unimaginable. 

Last modified on November 4, 2021

11/4/21 – You may recall seeing reports such as the one in the New York Post about irate Tesla owners fuming over rats chomping on the wiring in their $70,000 cars. Owners of Hondas, Toyotas, Hyundais and Kias have also reported chewed wires.

So who is at fault? The topic led to a legal matter, one that has yet to be completely resolved, but it does conjure up a colorful image: a judge in a courtroom with car makers at one table, car owners at the other, and the audience packed with rats with a, “Who, me?” look on their faces. 

A suit was filed against Toyota blamed the auto maker for using wires made with soy-based materials that rodents like to chew on. The plaintiffs claimed that the car maker's choice of materials had created a "defect," while the Toyota countered that it was all about rats being rats, and rats have always like to chew wires.  

In 2018, District Court Judge Andrew Guilford dismissed the case because Toyota’s warranty doesn’t specifically cover wiring damage from rodents. He dismissed claims pressed in 13 states. The plaintiffs appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In August 2020, it found that Guilford misidentified the rats as the problem, when the class action alleged that it was the soybean-based wired coating.

In May 2021, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled that the court was bound by the Ninth Circuit’s previous findings in the case, which ruled that expressed warranty claims could progress, but California Unfair Competition Law claims remained dismissed. The case continues. From various media reports, it seemed unlikely that the class action lawsuit filed by 21 people car owners would see them recoup their losses even if they prevail.

Throughout the proceedings, the rats have had no comment.

 

Last modified on November 5, 2021

10/6/21  The debate on whether to bury power lines continues to gain attention. Proponents say burying lines protects them from weather-related damage while opponents counter that the cost is too prohibitive, and that it would be a regulatory nightmare to get all the needed approvals. 

Burying power lines has to be done on a case-by-case assessment. Places prone to flooding are not ideal, and accessing buried lines for repair are more costly than fixing above ground lines. Either way, a lot is at stake: to pay up front to go underground, or to have to suffer later when there are more crippling power outages.

The sentiment following major powers outages may be strongly for burying the cables, but seldom does it result in action ... until a company decides that it has no other choice. Pacific Gas & Electric, which has had horrendous problems from firestorms, announced in July that it plans to bury 10,000 miles of its power lines (about 10% of its total grid) at a projected cost of about $20 billion. 

Per a report from the Institute for Energy Research, PG&E has more than eight million trees near the company’s power lines. PG&E plans to spend $1.4 billion this year to trim over a million trees and remove more than 300,000 of them. The company was scheduled to lay 70 miles of power lines underground this year, so 10,000 miles would be a mammoth task.

The timeline for laying the underground cable is projected at two years. PG&E's 16 million California customers, which already pay some of the highest electricity rates in the U.S., will likely will see their monthly bills go up. When this project is completed, it promises to be one of the largest case studies ever done.

Last modified on October 6, 2021

10/6/21  Do you have a junk drawer full of different chargers for every device you own? Are they tangled up like last season’s holiday lights? Did you buy a new phone with yet another different charger model? The EU has a simple solution that will cut down on all that electronic waste and reduce consumer frustration – harmonize mobile phone chargers by establishing an industry standard. The European Commission will soon introduce legislation to decouple the sale of chargers from devices and will require all smartphones sold in the EU to use USB-C chargers by 2024.

USB-C is a logical and versatile choice because it is compatible with USB 2.0 micro-B and USB 3.0, it transmits data and power on a single cable, it runs faster data transfer, it is smaller and thinner than the USB port, and it is already the format used for all new Android devices.

But not everyone is on board with conformity. Apple has its own Lightning connector port for its iPhone. The company claims that forcing connectors to conform will hurt technological innovation, create more electronic waste, and confuse customers.

The EU’s legislation is part of the push for “a Europe fit for the digital age” that will make charger conformity “a matter of urgency in order to avoid further internal market fragmentation,” according to the European Parliament. The Commission’s 2019 Impact Assessment Study found that half of chargers sold in 2018 used USB micro-B, 29% were USB-C, and 21% were Lightning.

Last modified on October 6, 2021

9/8/21 – When you think of data transmission, your first thought might be of optical fiber, but a team of Chinese researchers thinks there may be an even better medium: ice.

 In the journal Science, researchers Peizhen Xu of Zhejiang University and colleagues discussed how they have studied the use of ice to transmit light. They want to transition ice from a normal state to Ice II, which is a highly ordered rhombohedral crystalline structure. The key is the creation of ice “hairs” can be created that have high optical quality because they are extraordinarily clear and can allow efficient light transmission. The nearly perfect ice hairs are devoid of imperfections, like cracks, that cause ice to break.

 The researchers used a needle with an electrical charge to attract water vapor and freeze it. At cryotemperatures between –70° and –150°C, strands of single-crystal ice microfibers (IMFs) ranging from 10 micrometers to less than 800 nanometers could bend or curve up to 11% and then spring back to their original shape. They can transmit whispering-gallery light waves, which are able to travel around a concave surface. Those waves can be used in evaluating material properties, such as viruses from infected samples; lasers; cooling; sensing; and astronomy.

 Theoretically, using ice as a transmission mode can provide low-loss optical waveguiding, which guides light on integrated circuits for optical communication. And yes, if it pans out, it could be an alternative to optical fiber made from glass. So, ice could someday be the “next-gen” for industry, but for now one can still appreciate it for how well it sits in a gin and tonic.

Last modified on September 8, 2021

9/8/21 – Ludicrous speed! new wiring positioning a key for 

 There’s Q*Bert, the long-nosed video game character, and Qbot, the malware. Now there’s qubit (short for quantum bit), the exceptionally fast encoding system used in quantum computers.

Whereas traditional digital computers use only 0 and 1, qubits use 0, 1 or a combination of both, making faster computations and more complex modeling. The reason quantum computing today can’t use more than 100 to 1000 qubits is because large-scale use of millions of qubits is hampered by wires that take up too much space and generate too much heat. The wires used for the magnetic fields that control the spin of electrons in qubits are usually positioned right next to the qubit, requiring ever more wires for more qubits. Also, these magnetic fields drop off with distance, and heat can interfere with performance. 

Now, scientists at the University of New South Wales in Australia have devised a way to efficiently position wires that may lead to better development of quantum computers using qubit technology. To get more control of electron spin, less space, and less heat, they placed the wires above the qubits, and also used a dielectric resonator crystal that shrinks the wavelength of the microwaves down to one millimeter. With both these advances, qubits can use less power and less heat, and there’s a shorter distance for the wires. 

Pretty soon quantum computing will reach ludicrous speeds using millions of qubits to calculate complex chemistry simulations for more effective drugs, crack encryptions for better cybersecurity, develop artificial intelligence, and create predictive modeling for financial services, traffic patterns, and weather forecasting. Smoke if you got ‘em.

Last modified on September 8, 2021

8/6/21  Everyone wants a bargain but buying by lowest price continues to be a bad idea. Merchants on Instagram are selling counterfeit Apple phone chargers, lightning cable, and USB power adapters at a steep discount. Only these products tend to explode, causing overheating, fires, and injury such as burns and shocks. A USA Today study checked the safety limits of electricity flowing through 400 fake iPhone adapters and found a 99% failure rate. 

About 1 million online listings selling counterfeit Apple products, usually from China and Hong Kong, have become a multi-million-dollar operation targeting mostly consumers in Europe and the U.S., according to a report by Ghost Data Team published on Bloomberg.com. Ghost Data studied 163 sellers of counterfeit products on Instagram, and these companies uploaded 50,000 sales posts in the last year. U.S. investigators have determined that overseas-manufactured counterfeits take a circuitous route through several companies before reaching retail markets in the U.S.

 Counterfeits have been a persistent problem. Instagram parent company Facebook says it continues to devote resources to taking down sites that sells such products, yet you can still find such offers advertised on Instagram and Facebook. One seller grossed $140,000 in a single day, according to Ghost Data. Amazon is also plagued by counterfeits.

 If you see an ad for an AirPod Pro for $25 that typically sells for $249, you can be assured that you are not looking at a bargain. You are looking at junk. Also, if a photo of a product shows no logo, and there is no description for short circuit protection or accompanying product information, scroll on.



Last modified on August 12, 2021

8/6/21  Electric vampires do exist, and chances are that you have multiple ones at your residence These vampires are power cables that suck up electricity even when your appliances are turned off but are still plugged in. This “vampire electricity” comes from power cords to phone chargers, laptops, printers, modems, stereos, TVs, DVRs, cable boxes, microwaves, etc., that are always plugged in to a wall socket and continually consume energy, even if the appliance is not turned on. These appliances remain in standby mode, continually drawing energy waiting for you to click “On” so they can start up immediately. They also consume energy to perform other tasks in the background, such as making updates, connecting to remote networks and gathering data. A whole house of appliances constantly draining vampire energy can contribute as much as 20% to your electric bill. That’s $165 per year for the average household, and $19 billion across the U.S., according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

One way to put a stake in vampire energy usage is using a power strip (with a surge protector), which turns off all power flowing to devices. Plug multiple devices into a power strip when appliances are in use, then turn them all off at once when not in use. Other ways to ward off energy vampires is to buy Energy Star labeled appliances, activate the energy-saving mode of appliances to put it to sleep when not in use, unplug phones and tablets once they are fully charged rather than leaving them charging overnight, and unplug seldom used appliances like the washing machine or the household furnace during summer or air conditioner during winter when not in use.

Last modified on August 6, 2021

8/6/21  Everyone wants a bargain but buying by lowest price continues to be a bad idea. Merchants on Instagram are selling counterfeit Apple phone chargers, lightning cable, and USB power adapters at a steep discount. Only these products tend to explode, causing overheating, fires, and injury such as burns and shocks. A USA Today study checked the safety limits of electricity flowing through 400 fake iPhone adapters and found a 99% failure rate. 

About 1 million online listings selling counterfeit Apple products, usually from China and Hong Kong, have become a multi-million-dollar operation targeting mostly consumers in Europe and the U.S., according to a report by Ghost Data Team published on Bloomberg.com. Ghost Data studied 163 sellers of counterfeit products on Instagram, and these companies uploaded 50,000 sales posts in the last year. U.S. investigators have determined that overseas-manufactured counterfeits take a circuitous route through several companies before reaching retail markets in the U.S.

 Counterfeits have been a persistent problem. Instagram parent company Facebook says it continues to devote resources to taking down sites that sells such products, yet you can still find such offers advertised on Instagram and Facebook. One seller grossed $140,000 in a single day, according to Ghost Data. Amazon is also plagued by counterfeits.

 If you see an ad for an AirPod Pro for $25 that typically sells for $249, you can be assured that you are not looking at a bargain. You are looking at junk. Also, if a photo of a product shows no logo, and there is no description for short circuit protection or accompanying product information, scroll on.



Last modified on August 6, 2021

7/7/21  By the time hurricanes strike, they have official names and landing date so people have a name to a tag all the damage, which will be well chronicled by video. Last year, however, there was a memorable natural disaster, only this one did not have a name, an official starting time or much of anything in the way of widespread media attention. Then again, this avalanche took place at depths as great as 2.8 miles, and the only sign that it had even happened was that two subsea cable systems were KOed.

Per a BBC report, the avalanche, officially called a turbidity current, was initially triggered by a large flood on the Congo River in December 2019. The fast-moving water shifted a vast amount of sand and mud to the Congo Submarine Canyon off the West African coast, but that alone did not cause the avalanche. Early spring tides in mid-January 2020, water pressure in the sediment and low tide triggered the turbidity current. The slide traveled for a full two days, starting out at 11.6 miles/hour then sped up to nearly 18 miles/hour, covering 683 miles across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, reaching depths there as much as 2.8 miles.

A U.K. team led by Professor Peter Talling discovered the event through sensors in the area that measure current and sediment velocities. The slide damaged two submarine telecommunications cables, the South Atlantic 3/West Africa (SAT-3/WASC) cable and the West Africa Cable System (WACS), knocking out Internet and other data traffic. A French cable-laying vessel, the Léon Thévenin, repaired the cable breaks within two weeks, but the movement of sediment caused more breaks in early 2021.

Talling and his colleagues later wrote a paper (Novel sensor array helps to understand submarine cable faults off West Africa) printed at eartharxiv.org. In it, the professor explained that not all turbidity currents work the same. Some deposit large amounts of sand and mud onto cables, while other slides burrow deep into the seafloor. The Talling team provided some of the first measurements made of cable-breaking sediment flows. He explained how such flows can affect multiple cables simultaneously over large areas, and how deep erosion can damage subsea cables.

Dr. Mike Clare, marine geoscientist at the U.K.’s National Oceanography Centre and advisor to the International Cable Protection Committee, said that the goal was to best understand how to position and reroute cable repair ships into areas where undersea cable is more vulnerable to damage.
More than 99% of all data traffic between continents goes through the global submarine cable network. Participating in the Congo Canyon research was IFREMER (Institut Français de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la MER) in France and GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Germany. The project is co-led from Durham and Angola Cables.

Last modified on July 8, 2021

7/7/21  Sad to report, but it was beavers – determined, hard-working creatures – that were the cause of a temporary Internet outage for 900 residents in Tumbler Ridge in northeastern British Columbia.

When a Telus repair crew traced the problem, they found red marking tape on top of a beaver’s den in a local creek. The beavers had dug down more than three feet to the cable, used the tape for their building material, and chewed through 4.5 in. of conduit and fiber cable in multiple locations. Crews had to bring in extra equipment to dig out and expose the rest of the cable to see how far the damage extended. The partially frozen ground hindered their 36-hour repair work. Observed a Telus spokeswoman, it was a “uniquely Canadian disruption!”

As WJI readers know, rats and mice can cause tremendous damage chewing through electrical wires that cause millions of dollars of structural damage, as well as electrical and power outages. According to Working RE Magazine, rats and mice cause 20% of undetermined fires in the United States each year. Rats and squirrels have been caught on video pulling out and chewing on electrical wires in attics. Rodents chew on wires to file down their teeth and to make nesting material. Because rats, mice, chipmunks and squirrels are the most likely suspects for chewing wires, please don’t blame bats, opossum, skunks and armadillos, as they do not engage in such activity. Then again, aside from the armadillos, they are not as lovable as beavers.

Last modified on July 8, 2021

June 3, 2021 – Are you being worked to death? If you feel at times as if you are being worked to death … you might be right! To be clear, this news in no way implies that the wire and cable industry is not good for one’s health … but it does raise a concern to any working person.

Overworking is so prevalent that the Japanese even have a word for it: karoshi: death from overwork. Working more than 55 hours per week can lead to a slew of adverse health reactions, from ischemic heart disease, stroke and stress to impaired memory/sleep, suicide and death. Karoshi is common in Asia, but it is spreading around the world and in diverse industries.

Per a recent World Health Organization (WHO) study, 745,000 people who worked more than 55 hours a week died of heart disease and stroke in 2016. The number for heart attacks was up a shocking 42% from 2000. And long work weeks are quite common. In 2016, WHO and the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that 488 million people worldwide worked more than 55 hours a week. Of note, the latest ILO statistics show that the country that leads the world in long work weeks is Yemen, where 97% of employees work 49 hours or more. (The U.S. was listed at 14%.)

Overwork can include being available for work emails and calls 24/7. The Harvard Business Review reports that such overloading can make certain job duties more difficult, from sales and decision-making and judgment calls to getting along with coworkers. Ironically, those who give it their all may not reap any praise, let alone rewards: a Boston University study found that managers often could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who pretended to.

You might think that working from home during Covid-19 would have resulted in fewer work hours and less stress. Just the opposite. “Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work,” noted WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Forbes. Workers with family obligations fit their work in during bizarre hours like very early in the morning, during the night, and over the weekends, disrupting the circadian rhythm of their sleep–wake cycle.

WHO Director Dr. Maria Neira suggests that governments and employers should forbid mandatory overtime, arrange flexible work schedules, create work-sharing among employees, and set the maximum work hours to 55 per week for a single person. She recommends that employees ignore their smartphone for several hours per day, pursue a hobby or enjoyable activity, eat right, exercise and get enough sleep.

Of course, the ability to schedule in such recommendations would be the real challenge.

Last modified on June 3, 2021