Industry Voices

FiberSense – redefining the way we see and respond to the world around us

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Novel ideas for extracting new value from old assets

At Fiber-Sense, we are breaking new ground in the way that acoustic sensing via fiber optic cables allows us to understand our world anew. But we do so knowing our innovations follow a well-travelled road. FiberSense technology is already in the field and benefiting operators including Vodafone NZ, Southern Cross Cable Networks, Basslink and TransGrid. It’s the fact that these and our other partners are finding new ways to extract additional value from their existing telecoms assets by combining old tech with fresh thinking that makes the FiberSense capability so exciting.

The numerous patents we have registered underscores our “deep tech” capability as novel and “first in market”, but the steps of applying our innovations to commercial problem solving is not some new discovery. In fact, for decades now, telecoms network owners have achieved ongoing success via a simple model of deploying great infrastructure and then innovating with high-value services running "over the top".

That’s been the model from the very beginning of the telecoms revolution. It began with short and long-distance voice calls traversing a twisted copper pair, then on to novel applications like fax services and dial-up data links over that same infrastructure. Soon, along came more sophisticated cable that permitted ADSL and first-generation broadband leading to fibre optics delivering cloud computing, content streaming and the first interactions of the meta-verse that together, truly links the globe. Each tech development in the telco space built upon a new way of extracting value from existing deployments. All the time maintaining focus of leveraging these networks to deliver the digital transformation opportunities that the next generation of digital communications offers to our communities.

We believe that the Fibber-Sense technology represents yet another step change in that evolution and one that allows the millions upon millions of kilometres of fibre optic cables stretching around the globe to be seen “in a new light”. These cables are in fact, a source of high value, real-time data on the operation of communities, movements across cities and engagements within societies. Capturing and processing this data, lays the foundation for new innovations in safety, efficiency, productivity and security. Applications of far greater value than just content streaming down a pipe.

So how does it work?

Founded in Australia, FiberSense was formed to dramatically improve our experience in public spaces by adding a new level of real time and historical awareness of anonymised objects and events occurring around us. The team at FiberSense invented and patented a new class of passive sensor system over optical fiber cable infrastructure called Vibration Detection and Ranging. FiberSense technology sits at the intersection of optical fiber sensing, integrated photonics, machine learning and optical fiber telecoms networks. FiberSense brings these capabilities together in a digital platform that can be sampled at www.fiber-sense.com

Optical fiber is a vulnerable asset – in an emergency, you don’t want that kind of glass to break!

The first applications for the FiberSense tech were in relation to protecting the fiber optic cables that the service itself ran over. For instance, this asset protection capability provides early warning of digging events and other unplanned disturbances of cable and duct network. Through sensing of the early stages of unauthorised mechanical digging and excavation activity, alarms at our Network Operations Centre would enable field staff to be alerted and dispatched to the precise location of the potentially damaging activity. This early warning and detection capability stands in stark contrast to existing approaches where not only were cable cuts to data links diagnosed only after other outage possibility eliminated but even then, the exact location of the break often was only established through human inspection of the cable path.

Our DigitalAsset™ service turns that diagnostic approach on its head. Firstly, an alarm is triggered in the NOC just as the ground is disturbed around the cable or the live cable is being handled by persons in the field. Further, the activity is located within a few metres long the kilometres of cable and preventative intervention is triggered that aims to stop the activity via first responder callouts or field tech despatch. This early warning capability is harnessed even before the services running over the cables are impacted. Over time we find this drives a strong deterrence effect for our client as the parties that typically cause the network outage become aware their activities are now visible in real time. Our ability to detect excavation and network flap causing events with very low false alarm rates across a noisy city background has been key to the take up of our asset protection service.

From the customer’s perspective, the cutting-edge capability is acquired in an easy to consume “as a service” in a monthly subscription offering where specific adverse events are tracked. In this way, early warning alarms are monitored that allow for the despatch of in-field resources to halt a back-hoe dig, an unauthorised cable handling event, a tunnelling or drilling event that would otherwise likely lead to cable severing and resultant commercial harm. But the capability extends from protecting fiber assets in the ground to subsea cables.

The growing urgency of sub-sea cable protection

Subsea telecommunication cables are vital – they carry the cloud and the internet between continents.  Cable breaks are increasingly causing large enterprise, government and consumer disruptions with enormous total costs to the community.  More cables are being built as the Internet/Cloud/SaaS demands sees exponential growth in data use that in turn presents steeply rising implications when an outage occurs.

Submarine cable infrastructure is the only capital infrastructure that once deployed to the ocean floor is completely invisible from the surface. It has been that way since the first trans-Atlantic cable was installed in the 1850’s. Today, around 90% of damage to submarine cables occur in shore-end, shallow water and 70% of damage is due to anchor drag and fishing net trawling. High-risk areas are also found at cable protection zones and near landing stations where there is increased risk of multiple cables being taken out by the same event. Implementing innovations across marine plant shore ends mitigates a range of threats that were virtually impossible to detect before. FiberSense has teamed with leading operators including Southern Cross Networks in the Pacific region to detect and then meet these challenges.

These threats include cable strumming, cable un-earthing, anchor drag, fishing net drag, shunt fault location and subsidence. We are confident that our sensing approach will become the de facto standard for monitoring all marine cables over the next decade as new opportunities for installers, operators and governments to manage security across these critical infrastructure assets are developed.

What about protecting adjacent infrastructure- what does sensing reveal?

The imperative for asset protection doesn’t stop at the fiber optic cable in the ground. In most jurisdictions, the cable pathway follows a duct network that is adjacent to other critical infrastructure asset such as water pipes, sewerage, gas pipelines and electricity transmission and distribution.

The sensing that detects the strains on the fiber optic cable can be tuned to “listen” to other activities. For instance, the pressure emanating from a water or gas pipe leak, produces a distinct frequency profile that the patented FiberSense tech reads in real time. That signal is processed with outputs pinpointing location and leak strength which allows the infrastructure owner the ability to target urgent remediation work to a level of specificity and scale not seen before.

Unlike approaches adopted with “internet of things” based detection where individual hardware units are deployed at intervals across a network in the hope of being in the right place to monitor for common events like leaks or breaks, FiberSense is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution. This means that sensing occurs via “virtual sensors” located all along the network. Again, this leads to precision in capturing fundamental data such as rate of flow loss and location of leak with mitigation measures able to be developed accordingly.

From earthquakes to enabling the Metaverse – opportunities for sensing at scale

FiberSense harnesses data derived from the precise measurement of frequency and strain impacting light pulses traversing fiber optic cable. Once processed through our proprietary algorithms, these data sets now present diagnostic opportunity way beyond applications that focus on critical infrastructure and related assets protection.

Often the most powerful and destructive events that impact our way of life are derived from natural phenomena such as earthquakes. Of course, seismic events themselves can’t yet be prevented. However, the earliest possible detection of earthquake and volcanic type activity together with location coordinates provides authorities with key information to enact necessary disaster response plans that give communities the best chance to response effectively.

Below: Melbourne, Australia CBD fiber cable loop detecting earthquake event August 2021

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We are also developing the capability for communities to benefit from the much talked about promises of “Smart Cities”. As FiberSense’s mission is to transform the way that we perceive and respond to the world around us, we see a core role for us to play in emerging opportunities such as autonomous vehicle tracking, transport congestion mitigation and pedestrian movement optimisation. The common factor in all these and related activities is the ability for our sensing capability to detect these movements in real time and then convert that data into intelligible useful information to improve our way of life.

These are exciting opportunities that when taken together, bring us closer to a safer, more efficient, more productive, more secure and just better world.

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