The need for fast internet connectivity is a common concern for everyone these
days. Spending the last year social distancing and working remotely is putting
a strain on existing infrastructure and leading to more and more fibre work
For horizontal directional drill (HDD) contractors specialising in fibre and shallow utility
work, the COVID-19 pandemic has added demand and pressure to put as much product
in the ground as possible before the end of this year’s working season. Two companies
working hard to expand high-speed connections across Western Canada are High Speed
Crow and Platinum Hydrovac & HDD. For the last several years, both companies have
dedicated their resources to help ensure everyone has access to high-speed internet.
Providing rural fibre access
The team at High Speed Crow, based in Lockport, Manitoba, Canada is a trusted name
in providing high-quality fibre and wireless internet services for much of rural Manitoba.
Company founder, Bryan King, said it has been his mission to deliver the same levels of
internet access to his rural neighbours as people living in the city. “From businesses in
smaller communities competing with large companies to giving our young people access
to the same educational tools that city kids have, high-speed internet access is not a
luxury, it is a necessity no matter where a person lives.” he explained. “Our job at High
Speed Crow is to deliver access to over 18,130 square kilometres (7,000 square miles) of
rural Manitoba using fibre and wireless broadband.”
In High Speed Crow’s early years, the company only delivered wireless service. However,
in 2015, King decided to expand the company’s services as the demand for higher
internet bandwidths grew, and wireless service would no longer be enough in more
densely populated areas. After exploring his options for installing fibre in the area, King
concluded it was in his customers’ best interests to perform the work themselves.
The High Speed Crow fibre equipment fleet includes a Vermeer RTX1250 ride-on tractor;
Vermeer LM42 and SPX25 vibratory ploughs; a Vermeer V500 vacuum excavator; and
Vermeer D24x40 S3, D20x22 S3 and D9x13 S3 HDDs. The big vibratory plough is used
to install the system’s backbone, the small plough is used for short drop and the HDDs
are used in more sensitive ground conditions, connecting businesses and homes.
The vacuum excavator is also an essential part of the process to avoid existing buried
infrastructure and support the drilling crew.
The bulk of fibre installation work for High Speed Crow happens during the summer
months, which means crews need to be ready to roll each spring when the weather
gets nice. On average, crews install 46,720 to 54,864 meters (150,000 to 180,000 ft) of
fibre each year, one town at a time. The amount of work done varies because the soil
conditions in the area can be a bit unpredictable. Most of the time, crews work in softer
soils, but every now and again, there are some patches of hard rock.
The team at High Speed Crow moves forward every working season, trying to outdo
what they accomplished the year before. King does not believe they will ever be done
with expanding their fibre network in the metro Winnipeg region. “As demand for
high-speed internet grows, so will our responsibilities to our customers.” he said. “We have been here delivering on our promise during today’s uncertainties, and we will
be there for them when life gets back to normal.”
Working efficiently in the city
Platinum Hydrovac & HDD pushes its team hard every summer installing fibreoptic
conduit across western Canada. According to Lorne Aasen, the directional drilling
manager for the Nisku, Alberta-based company, supporting their shallow utility
contractor’s installation demands seem to grow every year. The company’s most
concentrated area of projects is in Edmonton, Alberta, with more than 20 crews that
have been stationed around the city.
To get the most from its people, Platinum makes sure each crew has the right
equipment to do the work as efficiently as possible. Aasen said that choosing a limited
number of machine models and manufacturing brands so operators can change from
one machine to another without having to adjust to different controls is an integral
part of that. “We only operate Vermeer HDDs” he said. “This decision makes it easier to
move people around as we need to. It also simplifies maintenance and helps reduce the
volume of parts and consumables we need to stock.”
Platinum’s HDD fleet ranges in size from the Vermeer D6x6 to the D40x55 S3 HDD.
For short drops, the crews primarily use D6x6 and D10x15 S3 HDDs because of their
compact size and lightweight footprint. Aasen explained that these machines help
minimise restoration, and that means crews can get more done during the limited
working window every summer.
For mainline work throughout Edmonton, Platinum primarily uses Vermeer D20x22
S3 HDDs. Made up of soft clays, the ground conditions in the area are ideal, and these
units have proven to be efficient at installing the hundreds of thousands of meters (ft)
of conduit crews need to accomplish each year. The company’s larger drills are primarily
used to do natural gas work but are available on fibre jobs when ground conditions are
“In Edmonton, we typically have around 15 crews dedicated to mainline work and
another six to install conduit for doing home drops.” Aasen explained. “The mainline crews are usually installing triple 76 mm and 102 mm (3 in and 4 in) diameter conduit
bundles. They shoot the pilot bore, ream the hole to a 305 mm or 406 mm (12 in or
16 in) diameter and then pull back. It is all pretty straight forward, and we have been
doing it for so many years in the area, we have gotten pretty efficient at it.”
Even though the area’s environment has become quite familiar to the Platinum team,
each crew follows a meticulous process to help reduce the risk of utility strikes. The
standardised operating process works so well that Platinum’s crews safely installed
107,000 meters (35,109.9 ft) without a contact.
Accomplishing it all
Whether working in rural areas or a busy metro, both contractors agreed that
planning, trained crews and a dependable equipment dealer are crucial for maximising
their productivity every working season. Both organisations work closely with the team
at Vermeer Canada and say their efforts are important to staying on schedule. King
said his team has had a wonderful working experience with Vermeer Canada over the
years, and for Aasen, the dealership is responsible for the company’s commitment to
proactive preventative maintenance.
Platinum uses Vermeer telematics with each drill in its fleet. Aasen said he monitors
the hours and service needs of every single drill from his computer. But more
importantly, Vermeer Canada is getting that information too. So, when it is time for
service to be performed or there is an issue with a drill, the service team at Vermeer
Canada can schedule preventative maintenance or deploy a service technician to get a
machine back up and running.
It is going to be another busy summer for HDD crews, and that is just the way King and
Aasen like it.