How to integrate pedestals into the urban landscape?

In urban areas, pedestals are boxes of various sizes installed along the streets, usually on frontage. The present article explains their usage and how we can dissimulate them and minimize their number.


What is the purpose of pedestals?

Pedestals are generally used to connect customers on power and wired telecommunication networks. Each pedestal is normally dedicated to either energy or telecommunication connections. Every public utility installs its own pedestals configured as per their respective standards. Some of them also use underground connection boxes of various sizes according to their needs. However, since the water table is often near the ground level, the equipment installed underground needs to be conceived differently than the equipment used above ground in order to remain operational even when submerged for extended periods of time.

Pedestals dedicated to power are normally used for underground networks and for low voltage customer connections. In Canada, the low voltage network is 120/240V for the residential and 347/600V for larger buildings and commercial ones. In the US, the residential voltage is also 120/240V, but the larger buildings and commercial voltage standard is 277/480V. In general, power pedestals are not used for medium voltage connections (over 700V). We find medium voltage only in pad-mounted transformers used to transform medium voltage into low voltage. Low voltage customer connections can also be located inside pad-mounted transformers in certain areas.

Pedestals dedicated to telecommunications can be used for either cable distribution network or for the optical fiber network (but sometimes also for the old copper cable network). In each case, the equipment changes, depending if the pedestal is used to connect customers or to create branches in the network loops. Each network has its own characteristics governing the number and type of boxes required.

The cable distribution network is an “active-type” system, meaning it requires the constant supply of energy used to amplify the signal in the coaxial cable. Battery banks are therefore installed nearby connection points in order to feed the network in case of power outage. Cable distribution amplifiers are also used to divide the network and create branches on the network loop. Cables used to connect customers can reach up to about 60 meters (200 ft), which explains the number of pedestals required.

The optical fiber network is a “passive-type” system, meaning it does not require to be fed by a local energy source to achieve signal delivery to customers. Therefore, amplifiers are not required to boost the optical signal and connection points can be as far as 150 meters (500ft) from delivery point to customer. However, the optical fiber network requires the installation of local interconnection terminals to connect radially hundreds if not thousands of customers.

Customer connections can be made using several types of optical cables. The number of fibers inside a cable can vary from one to several thousands fibers into one cable. A customer connection to the network can be made using a simple connector or by actually fusing the fiber to the local network. Fusion however requires sophisticated equipment used in a controlled environment specially configured for this purpose.

In fact, the cable distribution system is also connected upward to an optical fiber network. The coaxial cable distribution system is only used locally as an interconnection system between the optical fiber network and about one hundred customers. We therefore find “optical nods” at the head of local cable distribution networks, and these nods require pedestals.

Pedestals are then mainly used for wired telecommunication networks and the equipment they contain is not generally made for use in an underground installation. Pedestals are usually not used for wireless or cellular networks. The wireless networks are built using antennas requiring nearby connection boxes, but so far antennas are found mainly in commercial and public areas. This will change with the arrival of the 5G network which will allow to interconnect every network with the infrastructures, vehicles, buildings, and people in real time. Boxes will then be smaller but there will be many more of these everywhere, even in residential areas.

How to hide pedestals?

As they seem necessary, pedestals are present in our everyday urban environment. While we can sometimes install them beside or behind the buildings, we often find them in the frontage. Generally considered unsightly, pedestals are noticed for the wrong reasons. We then try to hide them behind shrubs, which makes them sometimes much less accessible to authorized workers. It’s out of the question to paint them or modify them otherwise to make them more presentable, since these are “normalized” equipment. We don’t dare touch it.

Furthermore, in order to install a pedestal on a private frontage, a servitude must be registered, which implies delays and costs to the home builders. One way to eliminate the need for servitudes would be to install the pedestals in the public easement along the street or along the sidewalk, namely where the lampposts are installed. However, this would make the pedestals even more visible, which is generally why this solution is not considered.

Another way to dissimulate pedestals is to conceal the connections into some urban furniture planned to be installed nearby the customers to be connected. The only problem is that, as we need many pedestals, we can hardly imagine what furniture can be installed in so many locations, except maybe the lampposts we find every 30 to 40 meters (50 to 100 ft) along the streets.

Lampposts are frequently installed about every four single-family homes or every height dwellings in a row housing area. For the pedestals to be integrated into the base of the lampposts, these must be able to connect 4 to 8 customers, preferably both energy and telecom. This is exactly what the MCM Joint Distribution Pedestal (JDP) can do.

The MCM JDP allows for the connection of 4 to 8 clients, energy and telecom, in the base of a lamppost. While the MCM JDP cannot do everything, it can do a lot to minimize the number of pedestals required along a residential or commercial street. Used with success in Canada since 2005, we find today more than 3500 of these installed in about 50 municipalities in the Montreal, Quebec, Sherbrooke, and Gatineau areas.

The MCM JDP has proven its value as an effective, ergonomic, and competitive approach, compared with the conventional approach using pedestals.