Ear to the Ground: How Norscan Equipment Communicates on a Single Conductor

Ear to the Ground: How Norscan Equipment Communicates on a Single Conductor

Back when Norscan started and the technology was first being developed, Norscan co-founder Ken Sontag hit a roadblock: to make his Cable Monitoring technology work, he needed a way to communicate with the sensors in the field. Why was this an issue and how did he overcome it? We caught up with Ken to learn more.

Colin: What was the biggest problem you faced when you were developing Cable Monitoring technology?

Ken: Getting our sensors in the field to communicate back to the Cable Management System at the Central Office. We needed some sort of conductive pair for the sensors to communicate on, but we only had the cable armour. And because the cable armour is only a single conductor, we had no return path to complete the circuit.

C: I hate when that happens. So, what did you do?

K: We had to get creative. I suggested to my partner at the time that we use the ground as a return path. He thought I was crazy at first.

C: And why’s that?


K: Because no one was doing it at the time, nor has anyone ever done it since. To this day, we don’t know of anyone else communicating with sensors over a single conductor using ground as a return path. Everyone was using twisted copper pair, but we wanted to use the cable armour on fiber. I told him, “Just because no one has done it doesn’t mean it can’t be done!”

C: Spoken like a true inventor. Did that solve the problem as you suspected?

K: In part, yes, but with it came another issue. We were successfully able to communicate using the cable armour and ground as a return path, but using this method we were limiting the distance that we could communicate on. We could only go as far as the nearest ground point before the circuit would terminate. Any sensors past this point were left in the dark.

C: Nothing is ever easy, right? So, how did you overcome this one?

K: We developed Intelligent Grounding equipment. Intelligent Grounding is an electronic way of providing that path to ground for dangerous currents, such as lightning strikes and induced voltage, while allowing signaling currents, such as locating signals or our Cable Monitoring alarms, to pass through. It keeps you safe from electrocution, but it doesn’t limit the distance for which you can communicate on.

C: Pretty ingenious. Thanks for your time, Ken!

K: My pleasure!