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Line Installers and Cable Splicers

The Job

In the installation of new telecommunications and electric power lines, workers use power-driven machinery to first dig holes and erect the poles or towers that are used to support the cables. (In some areas, lines must be buried underground, and in these cases installers use power-driven equipment to dig and to place the cables in underground conduits.) These line installers, also called outside plant technicians and construction line workers, climb the poles using metal rungs (or they use truck-mounted work platforms) and install the necessary equipment and cables. Once they have built the infrastructure, line installers string cable along towers and poles or underground through tunnels and trenches. In some cases, installers must attach other wires to the customer's premises in order to connect the customer with the outside line.

Installers who work with telecommunications lines usually leave the ends of the wires free for cable splicers to connect afterward; installers who work with electric power lines usually splice the wires themselves. For work on electric power lines, insulators must first be set into the poles before cables are attached. To join sections of power line and to conduct transformers and electrical accessories, line installers splice, solder, and insulate the conductors and related wiring. In some cases, line installers must attach other equipment—such as transformers, circuit breakers, and devices that deter lightning—to the line poles.

After line installers have completed the installation of underground conduits or poles, wires, and cables, cable splicers complete the line connections; they also rearrange wires when lines are changed. To join the individual wires within the cable, splicers must cut the lead sheath and insulation from the cables. They then test or phase out each conductor to identify corresponding conductors in adjoining cable sections according to electrical diagrams and specifications. At each splice, they either wrap insulation around the wires and seal the joint with a lead sleeve or cover the splice with some other type of closure. Sometimes they fill the sheathing with pressurized air so that leaks can be located and repaired.

In the past, copper was the material of choice for cables. To allow for the demands of high-speed, high-definition transmissions, many telecommunications companies are installing fiber optic cables. Fiber optic cables are hair-thin strands of glass or plastic that transmit signals more efficiently than do copper wires. For work with fiber optic cable, splicing is performed in workshop vans located near the splice area. Splicers of copper cables do their work on aerial platforms, down in manholes, in basements, or in underground vaults where the cables are located.

Preventive maintenance and repair work occupy major portions of the line installer's and cable splicer's time. When wires or cables break or poles are knocked down, workers are sent immediately to make emergency repairs. Such repair work is usually necessary after the occurrence of such disasters as storms and earthquakes. The line crew supervisor is notified when there is a break in a line and is directed to the trouble spot by workers who keep a check on the condition of all lines in given areas. During the course of routine periodic inspection, the line installer also makes minor repairs and line changes. Workers often use electric and gas pressure tests to detect possible trouble.

Hybrid fiber/coax systems require far less maintenance than traditional copper-based networks. As a result, line installers and cable splicers will spend significantly less time repairing broken wires and cables as hybrid fiber/coax systems continue to become more prevalent. As the cost of fiber cables decreases and becomes more in line with the costs of copper cables, more telecommunications companies will make the switch. Included in this occupation are many specialists, such as the following: section line maintainers, tower line repairers, line construction checkers, tower erectors, and cable testers. Other types of related workers include troubleshooters, test desk trouble locators, steel-post installers, radio interference investigators, and electric powerline examiners.

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