Co-author: Srini Lakkaraju
The communication service provider’s market has become highly competitive over the past few years in a race to deliver a gigabit economy. Delivering the best customer experience is now an inescapable challenge for communication providers.
With 5G coming in, there is a demand for a robust yet agile network which is capable of supporting growing volumes of data and large numbers of devices. The legacy network infrastructure wasn’t designed initially to cater to high bandwidth-intensive applications demands of today. Legacy network designs are inefficient and inflexible to adapt to changing market and customer needs.
The communication service providers are focusing on improving digital connectivity, in particular, on increasing the availability and take-up of very high-capacity networks. They have mapped out their long-term strategies for future-proof networks. Transition from legacy copper to fibre-based optical networks is their topmost priority. Intensive fibre-optic backhaul in a communication provider’s network is necessary to seamlessly stream high bandwidth-intensive applications supporting major advancements toward 10gbit/sec, 40gbit/sec, 100gbit/sec, and beyond.
Having the right system integrator partner can help communication service providers in accelerating time-to-market for their next-generation Fibre network projects, while keeping the cost low and maintaining the highest network quality.
Why build a fibre-based network?
Optical network deployments are already underway around the globe. Legacy copper transformation is the highest priority project for communication service providers. Two leading tier -1 communication service providers of North America are talking openly about the benefits post migration of their copper network on fibre technology. They are able to make significant cost savings and generate new revenue streams from both residential and non-residential customers.
Some of the drivers which are pushing communication providers to transform their legacy networks to fibre-based networks are mentioned below: -
- High bandwidth demand: The demand for bandwidth is expected to continue far into the future, driven by requirements for breakthrough applications such as higher resolution video, virtual reality, and other applications. Copper infrastructure was originally designed for transmitting voice calls with low data rates. The bandwidth demand in the legacy network is very low; for instance, T-1 can only carry 1.5 Mbps of throughput. Thus the higher bandwidth demand will continue to drive the need for fibre-based networks.
- Security, reliability and durability: Fibre cables transmit information through electrical pulses, which aren’t susceptible to tapping. Copper does use electricity and is susceptible to be tapped, which can cause the entire system to fail. They are also resistant to environmental factors such as electrical noise, interference, and voltage surges. Fibre optic cable is much less susceptible to various environmental factors. In addition, fibre cables are very durable as they are designed to last 30-50 years.
- High speed and larger distance coverage: Optical fibre is many times faster than even the highest-speed copper connection available. It can carry signals much farther than the typical 328-foot limitation of copper cables.
- Lower cost of ownership: The initial investment in an optical fibre solution is high, but eventually, the total cost of ownership reduces. Productivity issues that are directly attributed to slow or unreliable copper cable connection or due to bad weather could disappear with optical fibre. Optical fibre is more resilient, which leads to lower network downtime and, thus, yields savings to communication providers.
- Quick service provisioning: In today’s world customer requires real-time and on-demand bandwidth. New service provisioning in legacy copper networks takes several weeks to months. The service provisioning speed of the traditional copper-based network is unacceptable. Therefore, minute-level, near-real-time service provisioning is the key to next-generation optical fibre networks.
Key steps for implementing future-proof fibre network
Fibre backbone planning and design should be considered on current requirements, future growth, capacity, and new applications. A marginal increase in investment today can extend the operational lifespan of the communication service provider’s backbone. This increases the return on your backbone networking investment and makes your network future-proof.
Most of the best networks are born in the design phase. Hence the communication service providers should invest significant time and money early to ensure that their networks thrive over the long term. Some of the key points which need to be considered while laying out a fibre-based networks are as follows:
- Network planning and design: Network planning implies designing and dimensioning. This generally comprises of determining the number of nodes and links that need to be installed to take care of the targeted traffic. There are many ways in which fibre can be deployed— point-to-point links, distributed networks, and local area networks. Point-to-point links are the simplest and most accurate. Distributed networks are transmitting and distributing the information to a group of subscribers’ links. They usually follow a hub topology or a bus topology. Local area networks, also known as LANs, refers to networks where a large number of users within a local area are interconnected. Any user can access the network randomly to transmit data to any other user. They mostly follow ring topology or star topology. Topology depends on the preference of communication service provider and can be different across areas. The local loop, which is the connection between the subscriber’s home or office and the nearest exchange, is the costliest part of the network. This must be planned in an optimized manner. Sometimes to save cost, service providers prefer reselling the capacity of the local loop to other service providers. Determining the method of deployment of fibre optics is another crucial part. Fibre optics can be deployed via aerial installation, underground installation, direct buried, or installation in the duct. Underground fibre optic installation is mainly adopted as the fibre cable is less exposed to adverse weather conditions.
A structured planning approach must be adopted. The team needs to have field maintenance engineers, network planning and optimization engineers, network deployment engineers, and network maintenance engineers.
- Transmission equipment identification: Distance, speed and, bandwidth are the three critical factors that decide which transmission equipment should be used. Communication service providers can closely work with equipment providers and identify the right one as per the needs. Based on preferred topology, the right transport equipment is identified. For example, use of ROADM (Reconfigurable Optical Add/Drop Multiplexer) can help in ring topology while the use of OXCs (Optical Cross Connects) can help in mesh technology.
- View layout preparation: Once the transmission equipment is identified, communication service providers should lay out the high-level design of fibre-based network. Redundancy to be considered while designing the network. This helps in service continuation despite the main route going down. Once the high-level design is laid out, it will need inspections and site visits.
- Regulatory permissions: Once the inspections are done, communication service providers need to take the required permissions. They need to reach out to agencies- private/government to seek necessary approvals. Most of the time, communication service providers consider future fibre demands and take permission for placing enough fibre to avoid future construction.
- Contract transfer and negotiations: Communication service providers need to inform their end customer about copper-to-fibre migration and mention the expected time frame. The communication service provider must work on new contracts with their end customers, mentioning new SLAs, services, and new QoS.
- Network deployment: Specialized, skilled resources are required for laying the network. The infrastructure layout team should have good hands over the network equipment and transport network. Prior to fibre layout, the site owners and the impacted customers must be informed. If it’s a fibre migration from copper, it needs to be planned in the night to have minimal service impact.
- Customization of existing tools: Tools such as the network management system, inventory management, and OSS need customization once the fibre network is successfully deployed. The customization is needed as there is the addition of fibre-related network elements.
- End-to-end network testing: Despite the best practices followed while laying out the network, end-to-end testing is crucial as connector damage, micro-bending, loose connections, and contamination can reduce signal strength. An important parameter to measure is the optical loss (often called dB loss or attenuation). High optical return loss (ORL) can stop transmission of signals. Once the testing is done, issues are resolved, the network is made to run.
- Functional and services testing: There are various network elements which play an important role in the overall fibre network such as the connector, splitter, transponder, and others. It is important to test the functionality of all the network equipment as per the standards specification to deliver the desired quality of service.
- Decommissioning: Once the fibre network readiness is declared, decommissioning of copper becomes important as the customers will be cut off from old networks. The first step is to switch off copper switches. Then, all electrical devices supporting copper devices need to be switched off and removed. For example, ADSL or DSL connections.
- Network support and maintenance: Once the network is up and running, active monitoring and maintenance of the network becomes a continuous process. Some of the field issues comprise of outages or service degradations related to a faulty cable connectors, which can be due to bad weather as well. As technology is advancing, some of the network monitoring tools apply data analytics and predictive maintenance that can be used as inputs to a reoccurring problem.
- Governance: Large-scale fibre rollout and migration programs are usually broken down into multiple, parallel projects within the main program flow. This requires coordination and program managing. Hundreds of separate field engineering teams work on the projects and sub-projects, which may differ according to the network management topology and geography areas. This will also involve coordination with equipment suppliers. End-to-end project management plays a key role in such kind of highly complex, parallel projects. This involves hundreds or even thousands of personnel, and coordination with external contractors.
- Documentation and training: A proper documentation of fibre deployment makes the network maintenance a very smooth process. Any time the equipment needs to be added, upgraded, or replaced, the document has all the details of the inventory, processes, network diagrams, topology maps. This makes the entire network management process much simpler. Training is another important element of any project. It will help in bringing deployment, management and troubleshooting expertise to the desired group. Training is a collaborative effort from OEMs and system integrators. The OEM focuses on product-related training while the system integrator focuses on process, methodology, troubleshooting, and validation training.
One of the approaches followed by communication service providers for a successful fibre migration is collaboration with the right technology partners. They have the right skills, expertise, and are responsive to their end-customer needs. The right system integrator partner can help the communication service providers in accelerating the time-to-market for their next-generation fibre network projects. The cost is kept low while maintaining the highest network quality.