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Fiber Optic Lines to Improve County Operations

by Katie Pyzyk June 1, 2012 at 8:15 am 5,413 22 Comments

The first phase of the county’s project to install fiber optic lines — an effort to upgrade outdated copper lines installed nearly 30 years ago — is nearly complete.

So far, about one-third of what will be 60 miles of line has been installed in sections stretching from Clarendon to Glebe Road in Ballston, down Glebe Road to Columbia Pike, and east to the Air Force Memorial. The project, which has been dubbed ConnectArlington, will eventually link over 90 individual sites around the county.

The new network will allow for more communication capacity thanks to increased bandwith compared with the old copper lines. In addition to connecting government buildings and structures, officials say it’s designed to improve communications with residents as well.

With the new network, residents will experience improved service for calls to 911. Up until now, the county’s towers for emergency radio communications worked via microwave. Factors like overgrown foliage and bad weather can interfere with microwave signals, but shouldn’t affect the new fiber optic system. The lines also allow for command centers throughout the county that can be activated in case of emergencies.

“Everybody wants to be able to communicate more and more,” said Jack Belcher with the county’s Department of Technology Services. “So the more we can put into this network the better, as far as residents communicating with us.”

The system is also expected to improve traffic management and public transportation with an intelligent transportation system. Such a system should allow for automatic adjustments of signal timing when traffic patterns suddenly change, like during an accident.

Another benefit of the fiber optics is a redundant network. That means a break in one line should still allow information to transfer via another route along the network. Belcher said that will prevent entire buildings from experiencing outages, which sometimes happens under the current system.

Currently, the focus is on wiring what’s considered the infrastructure “backbone” of the system, including nearly 60 traffic signals and 11 public safety ports. The ultimate goal is to add 32 county buildings and 18 Arlington Public Schools buildings to the network. The first stage of that process is slated to begin in fall of 2013.

“The easy part is building the core network, like traffic signals and radio tower,” said Belcher. “The challenge will be expanding to the schools and the county buildings down the road.”

Construction on the first phase is wrapping up, and the next phase, which will include work in Shirlington and Fairlington, is expected to be completed in the spring or summer of next year. The third phase involves various traffic signals north of Route 50. Work on that is expected sometime between 2013 and 2015, pending funding approval.

Photo courtesy Arlington County

  • JohnB2

    So this is owned by the county? Or is it some sort of arrangement with Verizon?

  • Brian

    Glad to hear we’re getting better fiber optic cabling. Should go great with the upgrades to FiOS coming this month:


    • 350sbc

      Yeah, that’ll be pretty sweet. Unfortunately, your download speed will only be as fast as the server delivering the files to you.

    • CourthouseChris

      The county government is getting better fiber optic cabling; this has nothing to do with your Verizon FiOS service.

  • drax

    Whiny ArlNow comments can now reach county staff 0.0003 seconds faster!

    • South Awwlington

      +1 Well they seem to monitor the site now, don’t they?

      • Fido

        “Well they seem to monitor the site now, don’t they?”

        Your tax dollars at work !!

  • Swag

    “Up until now, the county’s towers for emergency radio communications worked via microwave. Factors like overgrown foliage and bad weather can interfere with microwave signals, but shouldn’t affect the new fiber optic system.”

    So the emergency radios are hard-line telephones now? Or am I just not understanding the science here?

    • Andy

      The backhaul from/to the towers will be fiber. Not the communications from the towers to the first responders’ radios.

      • Swag

        and before it was all tower to tower?

        • Andy

          There are multiple sets of towers around the county to provide radio communication services to the first responders. When a dispatcher in Arlington’s emergency operations center, for example, keys his or her microphone to talk with a first responder, the communication is currently first beamed over microwave links directly to each of the towers. At the towers, the communications received over the microwave link are remodulated onto the frequencies used to communicate with the first responders, and re-broadcast by the antennas at the towers, to be received directly by the first responders’ radios.

          The first part of this process (the communications link from the emergency operations center to the towers) will in the future be handled by fiber optics instead of microwave. The other part of the process (the radio signal from the towers to the first responders) will still operate by radio.

  • 350sbc

    I love double redundancy

    • CourthouseChris

      I love double redundancy

  • soarlslacker

    MW can be impacted by line-of-sight and weather, but fiber can always be impacted by a back-hoe. Unless diverse routes on diverse networks are used and a self-healing fiber ring, there is always a vulnerability.

  • yello

    Unfortunately, to have Fios, you need to have a cool well ventilated area for the box to be in. Fires have happened when boxes are placed inside closets. Verizon will not put FIOS in neighborhoods that have house designs that don’t have cool well ventilated areas to put their box in. So, Fios will not go into Fairlington.

    • Josh S

      Hmmm. My FIOS box has been in my closet for two years now. Should I be worried?

      • yello

        concerned, yes.

        Check to see if your box is hot.

        They installed boxes in closets and had a rash of them catch fire. They didn’t admit fault, and they still don’t, but they stopped the practice of putting them in not well ventilated areas.

        Fairlington has been begging Fios to come in because with the tree lines and historic restrictions, Comcast is the only option for most homes. Verizon just refuses to run the lines into Fairlington. My guess is it is because most floor plans in Fairlington do not have a well ventilated place to put the box.
        But since, again, Verizon will not admit their boxes have caught on fire, it is only my guess as to why they refuse to go into Fairlington, but it makes sense.

    • WeiQiang

      FiOS equipment must also be located in dry environments, which explains why Donaldson Run is outfitted only with satellite dishes, mounted above the 100-yr avg flood plane.

  • South Awwlington

    FIOS at Park Glen anytime soon??????????

  • RedShirt

    Me thinks this means traffic cameras.

    • WileE

      I j s h pe t wi l let a l t e cha act rs th o gh t e in rnet fr m now n.

  • OccasionallyAFact

    Is the county pulling the old copper wires and selling them as scrap? Might be a tidy revenue boost.


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