back to article Aerial cable tangles are still being strung up, but carriers are slowly burying the problem

Unruly telecom cables may seem an unlikely tourist attraction, but in the Vietnamese town of Hoi An you can buy t-shirts that celebrate the thick snarls and loops of wire dangling from many of the nation's telegraph poles. In Bangkok, similar messes are celebrated by tourists and locals alike, who snap selfies with the hanging …

  1. Dan 55 Silver badge

    The move came after a little bit of misguided shaming from Bill Gates, who mistook communication cables for power cables. Nonetheless, attention from the billionnaire techie was enough to drive the cables underground.

    Telegraph poles are also a thing in the UK and US, maybe he should also drop a few hints in his home country and on visits to the UK.

    1. Catkin

      They're quite hard to see from a private jet.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Now THAT's what I call a burn, my compliments.

        (slight aside, the argument to use is that they're not very good for helicopters :) ).

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      Around here in the US at least, there isn't as much overhead wiring going pole to pole as you see in e.g. that last picture in the article. These days I guess that's because fiber is used for trunk runs but even when I was a kid before fiber was a thing I don't remember seeing anything like that.

      There are several possible reasons why. I'm sure the population density is much higher there, so a given route along a main street might serve dozens of times as many households there as it does/did here. Maybe they don't have the utility monopolies we have here so you have more than one electric company, phone company, and internet company stringing wires? When I was a kid it was just a monopoly electrical utility, monopoly telephone utility, and a monopoly cable TV provider. The only one that needs more wires to serve more customers is telephone, but those are small wires and they can hide a lot of pairs in what looks like one thick cable. Cable TV re-amplifies the signal again and again along the route and electricity runs higher voltage lines where it needs to serve more customers so it is the same number of wires for them regardless.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        "Around here in the US at least, there isn't as much overhead wiring going pole to pole as you see in e.g. that last picture in the article. "

        It's mainly down to there only being a limited number of providers right in the vicinity of one for each service. It's a huge waste to have dozens of competing companies all stringing lines on poles and then there's the question of who owns and is responsible for those poles. Where I live it's not even possible to get POTS anymore. There are still landline phones in the city while the 'phone' company installs fiber after which addresses served with POTS will be required to shift to VOIP if they want to have a fixed phone/fax. As the fiber goes live, the old copper lines are being removed. I expect they are being recycled given the cost of copper these days.

        The poles in my town have leccy on top with Cable and fiber below and new lines being put underground. The choice might be down to accessibility, right of way, all of that. I'd like to swap to fiber as my cable bill keeps going up every few months of increasingly unreliable service (black amplifier boxes on the poles don't fare well during hot summer days). The problem is no customer service from the fiber company and a website so cheesy that it won't give you any more than marketing fluff unless you fill out the forms. It also sounds like they have some tie in with Amazon that I'm not a fan of. I can't tell if that Amazon component is intrinsic or some addon they're pushing.

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Oh I agree it would be stupid to have five electrical providers because there's a ton of infrastructure beyond the wires running down my street and to my house, and there are spacing requirements and safety issues. But it wouldn't have been unreasonable to have competing cable companies, and indeed some cities did have competition. The lack of competition for telephone was due to AT&T regulated monopoly, and the breakup along regional lines which preserved the local monopolies.

          We seem to be have no trouble with fiber competition - the cable company has fiber to within a few hundred feet of houses, the telco is slowly (VERY slowly) installing fiber, and there's a third party local company that's got most of the city wired for fiber and rumors another might come. Obviously it would have been feasible with cable TV or telephone, it just didn't happen here. Having monopolies for those things where I live doesn't mean competition isn't the norm where those tangled wire pictures were taken.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      New York Third World

      Telegraph (and power) Poles are ubiquitous around the world … but ones throughout New York State make it look like the Third World being complained about here. Not quite as bad as in Bangkok - but pretty ugly and susceptible to adverse weather events and people driving into poles.

      Above ground power and telecoms in the UK is vastly less prominent - as much is underground by default.

  2. heyrick Silver badge

    They're rolling out fibre optic to rural Brittany. And have erected lots of new poles to hang the cables upon. Much much more cost effective than digging hundreds of kilometres of trenches.

    For some reason they can't recycle all of the old poles, don't know why but in one place there's copper down one side of the road and fibre down the other.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      For some reason they can't recycle all of the old poles

      Isn't that a bit ageist?

      No, wait ..

      (yes, yes, old joke. So am I).

      1. Jan 0 Silver badge

        Well, at least reveal your name. I'm willing to become Jan 1, Jan 2, .... Jan ∞

    2. Martin-73 Silver badge

      Same here in the UK at least around fareham/gosport, where Toob are installing o/h fibre, both on BT's (sorry openretch's) poles and their own brand new ones.

    3. david 12 Silver badge

      Cost Effective

      Those thickets of overhead comms cable will never go underground.

      They've skipped ahead to roll out "mobile data" in India. 600 million smartphones. Skipped the capital-intensive process of putting in a phone line to every home, using the technology-intensive process of gsm data.

      1. NeilPost Silver badge

        Re: Cost Effective

        … you ain’t gonna shove much ad-revenue down a GSM pipe.

  3. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    The problem with burying: you need a map..

    The problem with sticking the cables where you can't see them is that you can't see them.

    When you (or someone else) is digging, trying to find a fault, identify capacity - when you lose the map you don't get a blackout, more a slow brownout as your maintenance gradually fails.

    I came across this when securing the map data of an electricity provider whose map system provider was being rather naughty.

    1. mmccul

      Re: The problem with burying: you need a map..

      Fiber cable coating typically carries a metal wrapping. When trying to locate a cable, the procedure is to apply a low voltage current of a selected frequency to it at one of the access points (e.g. a manhole, utility shed), then use effectively a metal detector aimed at the exact right frequency. The "line locate and protect" job also carries equipment that allows one to determine how deep the cable is.

      Is the job faster with a map? Not really. Those maps are often off by half a mile or more.

      (Yes, I had to be trained for line locate and protect once many years ago.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The problem with burying: you need a map..

        As far as I can tell, if you want to locate a cable fast, get a man with a digger (judging by how often they go through cables).

        JCBs are years ahead in cable tracing technology.


        1. mmccul

          Re: The problem with burying: you need a map..

          That was part of the training. Ask the backhoe operator where they believed the cables weren't, check there first because the odds were good you'd find the cable at that exact spot.

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: The problem with burying: you need a map..

          "As far as I can tell, if you want to locate a cable fast, get a man with a digger (judging by how often they go through cables)."

          Mapping shouldn't be tough these days with GPS and all of the other tech that's available. It would be easier enough to pass laws that make the digger company liable if they slice through lines that are within a short distance of the mapped location and the utility liable if their mapping data is beyond that.

          The expense for utilities to locate their lines should be less than the cost to have to repair those lines or need to find them if there is a fault at some point.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The problem with burying: you need a map..

            The problem is that you have to work out who has stuck what underground, and that's not always easy as the data is all over the place, and that's even assuming it is even available at all.

            The challenge with centralising that information (if we assume for a moment that such was even possible) is that it also becomes easier for those with less than benign intentions to explicitly target critical infrastructure so it's not an easy one to solve.

            It appears the decision was made to simply accept the occasional panic..

          2. BartyFartsLast

            Re: The problem with burying: you need a map..

            Mapping cables isn't tough these days, unfortunately most of the cables, pipes, ducts etc. that are in use weren't installed "these days", they were installed decades ago when mapping was less easy and accurate.

    2. TchmilFan

      Re: The problem with burying: you need a map..

      Our Mumbai Khar West office used to get cut off regularly when yet another digger sliced through the lines. Went to WiMAX in the end… then Covid came along, PHB decided not to keep the contract running (sensibly actually, no-one in the office and no servers) but when we tried to get it turned back on after lockdown… “We don’t offer WiMAX anymore”

      So we moved the office instead.*

      *There were other factors.

  4. crg the new one

    Internet in Romania cca 2003, colorized

    That was Romania (not as many wires as in those pictures but still) between 2000-2015, the competition was fierce, there were over 3000 ISPs in the country, 4-5 willing to get a wire to your window by tomorrow morning.

    I remember having 50Mbps in 2004, then buddies of mine who were still living there got 1Gbps by 2006 or 07 (yeah, imagine that).

    Quality internet was always a commodity in that country, I just checked now and 1Gps costs less than £8 per month.

    (when Vodafone offers 1Gbps plus 160 TV channels for £12 there)

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Stringing cables on a pole is easier

    Sure it is. It also puts the cable at the mercy of the weather, of drunken motorists, of kids with stupid ideas and of thieves with an agenda.

    Yes, putting cables in the ground is much more expensive. It requires proper planning and documentation. It also removes a lot of possible dangers, and could maybe even help in case of Carrington events.

    There are cases when it pays in the long run to do things the expensive way.

    Eh, Boeing ?

    1. Dagg

      Re: Stringing cables on a pole is easier

      It also puts the cable at the mercy of the weather

      Here in aussie in mainy places we have coms cables in the ground. The problem being is when it rains the in ground pits and ducts fill with water and as electricity and water just don't mix....

  6. johnB

    Trolley Buses

    Seeing the overhead cables reminded me of when, many years ago, Newcastle upon Tyne scrapped their trolley bus fleet for diesels.

    The downside was smelly diesel.

    The upside was that there was noticeably more light at ground level.

    1. NeilPost Silver badge

      Re: Trolley Buses

      “The downside was smelly diesel.”

      The downside was smelly diesel because of NOx, Carbon Monoxide, HC and PM2.5 pollution…FTFY

      … only largely recently been resolved with Euro V and Euro VI pollution standards driving them down further - esp. NOx and with Diesel Particulate Filters.

  7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "above ground cables will face more outages"

    I'm not sure. We have about 2-300 metres underground to the sub-station. In about 22 years our connection to the cable in the road failed, then the neutral developed a resistance of several ohms, dimming the lights when the kettle, etc, was switched on and a short in the cable damaged the adjacent gas main (17 hours for the double repair). Our neighbours subsequently suffered a failed connection at the same point that we did and most recently the road was closed for a couple of days for emergency repairs 2-300 mtered on the other side of the substation.

    OTOH there's an overhead connection from the pole opposite our house that's supposed to just supply street lights further along the road but was and possibly still is also supplying houses on overhead lines because their regular supply was/is faulty. A tree branch shorted that one out in a gale a year or two ago. (I must try to take down that tree but with the wires so near it's not easy.)

    1. VerySlowData
      Thumb Up

      trees and power lines

      Do what we had to do: get a qualified tree removal firm who will arrange for the power to the overhead power line to be switched off during tree removal. Painless and safe! Mind you, I had to ruthlessly prune a lemon tree that I planted as a seed in the wrong place years ago, after receiving a Notice to Remove Vegetation from the power reticulation company.

  8. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Uninsulated Electricity Lines/Wildfires

    As seen recently in Maui, when those overhead electricity cables are uninsulated there's increased risk of sparks on contact. Add poor maintenance, not meeting current standards in terms of ability withstand adverse conditions...

  9. Norman Nescio Silver badge

    Swings and roundabouts

    Putting cable (copper and/or fibre optic) on poles is far cheaper than digging, easier to fault-find, but more susceptible to faults in the first place. There's a cost/risk equation there. If you have excess money, digging is preferred, and local government ordinances may force you to anyway.

    I worked at one time for a service provider offering services in Thailand. Many trunk outages caused by (what the fault reports said were) squirrels. Customers were rightfully unhappy, so we ended up burying many kilometres of trunk fibre, which solved that particular problem.

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Swings and roundabouts

      > Many trunk outages caused by (what the fault reports said were) squirrels.

      That's nuts!

      1. Ken Shabby

        Re: Swings and roundabouts

        Round here it’s possums, not tried them fried

      2. Marcelo Rodrigues

        Re: Swings and roundabouts

        "> Many trunk outages caused by (what the fault reports said were) squirrels.

        That's nuts!"

        Not really: just fiber. Good for your diet and all.

        I know, I know.

        Coat. Door.

    2. gzgweilo

      Re: Swings and roundabouts

      "Many trunk outages caused by (what the fault reports said were) squirrels. "

      I can confirm this. We had one phase go out recently in our village due to fried squirrel...........

      The other issue with the communication wires in Thailand is they very rarely remove any redundant cable even when upgrading from VDSL to fibre or when someone changes provider..

      The picture shown is actually pretty normal in any city in Thailand.

      The other problem is where wires get loose and hang down and cause accidents - several reports every year of motor cyclists being almost decapitated......

      Example here -

    3. PRR Bronze badge

      Re: Swings and roundabouts

      > Many trunk outages caused by (what the fault reports said were) squirrels.

      There was a site tracking and mapping squirrel-caused power outages. He gave up-- there's just too many of them.

      Between squirrels, diggers, over-tall delivery vehicles, and utility neglect, hackers are like the least threat to our wires.

      In coastal Maine, and I see in Nova Scotia, underground wires just are not done. Here the underlying granite runs from 2 feet down to sticking-out. There's generally no good cover, not enough wealth to do rock-saws or explosives. The power lines are fairly neat, but the third fourth over-build of communication cables is approaching the snarl seen in this article.

      And yeah: sometimes the power company puts up new poles across the street for better reliability, and does not tell the telephone company, or telco doesn't want to touch 80 year old lines (I'm sure our Bay Road line predates WWII, and is paper-wrap). When the latest fiber came to our house, first thing the guy did was hammer-smack our pole listening for rot.

  10. stucco

    Up North we had underline wires and it was great. Down in the south though underground lines are a nightmare. When a hurricane blew through our aerial lines went down, but were repaired in a couple of hours. However in the city where they moved a lot of lines and transformers underground they were out for weeks as they had to get everything drained and dried before they could power things back up.

    So water tables and drainage are huge issues for underground systems.

    1. david 12 Silver badge

      Our city substations are far underground, in a saturated cracked-rock rubble or in the river gravel.

      If your underground substations flooded, it's because they were built on the cheap.

      1. EricB123 Bronze badge

        On the Cheap

        "If your underground substations flooded, it's because they were built on the cheap."

        Isn't that most of them?

      2. NeilPost Silver badge

        Why would anyone build a sub-station underground ??

  11. EricB123 Bronze badge

    But thw wires were good

    I used to live in Pattaya, Thailand. After the wires were buried in my neighborhood, I truly missed them. And they provided shade from the intense tropical sun, a true benefit in this part of the world.

    There was one benefit to the project, though. The streets got repaved, the first time in decades.

    1. gzgweilo

      Re: But thw wires were good

      >I truly missed them. >

      I feel sorry for you ;)

      I still live there and one thing for sure is these kind of projects never get finished - too many brown envelopes flowing around........

  12. Downeaster

    Turn of the Twenty Century Look

    If you look at old pictures of a city in the USA and also probably the UK, our cities looked like this with wires. Electricity, telegraphs, phones all had their own set of wires. They had to run to every house. Also many different companies sharing the poles Different phone companies and telegraph companies for example. I also wonder with the how many of the old wires are left up that don't do anything anymore. If copper phone lines are discontinued, do the company remove the miles of wires or is it left to rot? Anyone remove all the old telegraph wires from years ago? Some wires on those poles are probably like the label on many pipes the original Star Trek set for the Enterprise. They were labeled GNDN. GNDN was an inside joke that met "Goes Nowhere Does Nothing."

  13. Tim 11

    I suspect those photos are publicity photos from after someone tidied them up - they are significantly less messy than most I have experienced

  14. M_W

    Pah, these are amateur...

    Went to Nepal in March/April this year and spent a few days in Kathmandu.

    I have genuinely never seen such a chaotic mess of cables - most of which are Fibre. I actually saw one lad wander up to a mess on the top of a pole with a fusion jointer in his hand - another bundle had been run into a building he was next to, and he sat and jointed the fibres for the internet with a jointing tray and fusion splicer, when he had finished, pushed it up into the bundle of existing mess and wandered off!

    Not much actually is underground - there was an initiative to try and sort it out back in 2017 but clearly it went nowhere.

    Also, their power stability is horrendous. Just on one day I was sat drinking coffee in a cafe in the NCell centre on the corner of Durbar Marg & Narayanhiti path by the Naraynhiti Museum on the edge of Thamel and the power was on and off to most of the local area at least twice or three times in the hour I was sat there. I asked one of the locals if that was usual and they were 'yes, it's always this bad'.

    It made me realise we judge by our western standards but quite a bit of infrastructure is on a knife edge around the world and we should be doing more to help as these are problems we've clearly solved.

  15. Triggerfish

    No room to dig.

    The thing is there isn't room to dig for a lot of the suburbs in places Thailand and Vietnam.

    The areas people live behind the main roads are a maze of alleys ranging from just big enough to fit a car to just about wide enough for a scooter.

    You start digging up that to lay cable and you could end up shutting offf access to the homes of hundreds of people, some of these alleys as well have loads of front yard shops, markets and so on. The disruption caused is impractical.

    Underground there's probably just enough room for standard sewage and water pipes only before you hit building foundations.

    In top of that. I've never had fibre in the UK, but copper was just a swtich over at a junction box. There doesn't seem to be any main faculty that oversees that sort of handover here. Change isp, new cable gets laid and it's such a tangle of cables that removing the old is probably like a game of jenga except you take out everyone's Internet when the whole tangle falls down.

    Also Google maps just falls over in some of these places I'm not sure if there are adequate maps in general.

  16. Management Order

    Where would you sleep?

    If all the cables were put underground, where is one to sleep after a good night out?

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