Vital in every phase of FttX network development

Today, network planning, construction and operation are more complex than ever. The ability to optimally utilise data and digital tools introduces significant benefits at each discrete stage of development: from planning, designing and building to operation – including ongoing expansion and optimisation. All too often, however, the possibilities offered by leveraging data and software process are underused. This might be the result of their relative ‘newness’, or simply a lack of awareness regarding available options and potential advantages…

Although introducing and learning to work with new tools and processes takes some time, effort and adjustment, the CAPEX reduction introduced by one-off or recurring automated design and the resulting first-time-right deployment outweighs this. Once we consider the benefits automation and IT can bring to network development, consumer experience, predictive analysis and audits, for example, the benefits become extremely clear. Let’s see how smart use of tools and data can help at different steps…

Planning phase

During the high-level planning phase, the focus is on finding the optimum solutions for each planning area and determining the ideal locations for distribution hubs and cabling, and the Bill of Materials. Using software, it becomes possible to immediately compare different equipment and topology choices. With a manual this would simply be too time-consuming.

Automated high-level planning tools are essential to this. By entering (immediate and long-term) engineering and business rules along with GIS data and input on everything from demand aggregation, population clustering to current infrastructure, it becomes possible to optimize network designs for each geographical area. Automating high-level design can allow the software to suggest smart routes, for example, while still offering you the flexibility to adjustment planning based on any differences between your records and data used and the ‘real world’ situation.

It’s smart to make sure that the situation in the field and whatever has been previously documented are perfectly aligned and in agreement so that any planning changes can be made before building starts… Technologies such as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) can help scan and store real world positioning information, minimising field visits, and integrating this data into plans. This helps avoid exponential cost discrepancies in subsequent steps.

Design

In the ‘low-level design’ stage, high-level planning results are translated into ‘to-build’ plans. The resulting network plan must be sufficiently accurate and detailed to ensure that all official permits and authorisations are granted, and accurate working instructions can be generated. When choosing software tools, it’s important to make sure they offer export and import functionalities that allow fast and easy reuse of high-level network planning input.

Many different types of data that have been used in previous stages can be reused in this phase, such as geographical and infrastructural features, geo-referenced street data, building sites, and single home and MDU addresses. This needs to be matched to a database of items to be purchased and installation costs. In addition, ideally, field engineers should be able to add their findings in an easy, consistent and timely way to avoid costly rework and delays.

Build phase

By ensuring data and planning software are used in a smart way, you can avoid any barriers to, for example, obtaining permits or acceptance by construction partners. In the build phase, Auto-Design functionality can save huge amounts of time and effort when it comes to developing layout instructions and to-build plans. In this phase, it is also essential to continuously update as-built infrastructure records. Field management or construction management functionality, in turn, can break down complex assignments into clearly defined work packages and instructions.

Operate

In the ‘operate’ phase, a digital twin of the entire passive network, covering inside and outside plant, can support everything from expansion and capacity planning to regulatory reporting and service and repairs. Reducing Mean Time To Repairs in a structed way by integrating software monitoring can have a worthwhile impact on OPEX and Quality of Service.

Today, Quality-of-Experience (QoE) needs to exceed customer expectations and choosing the right tools provides insight into (potential) issues and network bottlenecks, allowing them to be solved rapidly, while also understanding where capacity can be added.

On a final note, it’s worth pointing out that a very wide range of software tools might be involved in a fibre project. However, it is crucial that all of the tools are very well integrated, not only with each other but also with Enterprise Resource Planning, CRM, and Business Information, for example. In practice, vendors providing different tools may be reluctant to support integration. Nonetheless, as networks become increasingly complex, vast amounts of connected devices are added and more and more functionalities move to a fibre backbone, integrated network planning, possibly with AI support, will be unmissable for generating vital insights and recommendations.

Choosing the right tools provides insight into issues and network bottlenecks, allowing them to be solved rapidly, while also understanding where capacity can be added

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Arnoud van der Molen

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