Well, that went by quickly.
We’ve reached the end of 2018, and the end of my column series looking at Network Transformation (NT) in the outside plant (OSP). Granted, I may be a tad biased, but I believe we covered a lot of ground to date, specifically looking at the:
• Drivers behind NT — I consider this the Why and the Where.
• Required changes in regulatory oversight — the What needs to happen.
• Universe of customers involved with NT — obviously, the Who is involved.
Thinking back to high school creative-writing class, I believe this leaves us with one area to review: the How. In this case, it is a look at how fiber is being deployed. To get an appreciation for how far we’ve moved the ball, we should start at the beginning.
When we first started building FTTH networks, we relied on what we knew best, that is, the processes we’ve had in place for literally a century — the processes used to build our copper networks. This typically involved lashing aerial cables to existing strands (and existing copper cables) or pulling UG cables through existing duct banks or digging up streets to place new ducts. This fiber was then spliced by highly trained technicians into hubs and splitters.
When we reached the customers’ homes we ran service wires or drops to demarcation points (in this case probably ONTS) on the side of the customers’ locations. Sometimes these drops were placed in micro ducts, other times they were direct-buried or hung like traditional service wires.
These placing, splicing, and installation processes worked well for copper, but we can all agree that they tend to be complicated, messy, and very labor intensive (i.e., expensive). And, believe it or not, placing ONTs on the side of the house is not ideal considering that we’re talking about data networks and not POTS with deregulated IW.
Today, it’s clear that we need a new way to do things if companies are to ramp the fiber builds necessary to support NT.
At a high level, we need construction processes and equipment that reduce the required manpower (and associated costs), accelerate the time to deploy, and have built-in expansion capabilities to enable new services like 5G and the ever-increasing customer bandwidth demands.
At the customer’s location we need a way to enhance the in-home experience while also reducing OpEx. This involves simplifying fiber installation while offering better aesthetics. And while we’re at it, we should also look for a way to push the fiber deeper into the home to better leverage Wi-Fi capabilities and reduce in-home wiring.
And while we’re doing all of this we have to maintain great quality — cutting corners is unacceptable to everyone involved.
Luckily for the industry, we have a ton of innovative partners to help us lower expense (CapEx and OpEx), improve fiber time lines, enhance the overall customer experience, and deliver consistent quality. These companies are doing amazing things with fiber technology, much of which was showcased at the recent ISE EXPO in Denver.
Today I’d like to focus on some of the innovations developed by 2 of my favorite partners — who now happen to be one — Corning and the Communication Markets Division from the 3M Company (3M CMD). These are 2 companies that I’ve found to be particularly innovative.
To help keep things in order I’ll group things into 2 categories: OSP construction, and the in-home experience.
Corning has developed a number of products that reduce overall construction costs and accelerate the time to deploy fiber. Their pre-connectorized cable solutions are not only faster and more accurate than splicing (delivering better quality), they allow a greater universe of employees to be involved with the construction process (i.e., you do not need as many highly trained splicers). Combining this with some of the newer, light-weight pole-mount cabinets clearly reduces CapEx by reducing the force required to build fiber networks.
They’ve also worked on new cable-placing processes using self-supporting cables and specialized suspension clamps that eliminate traditional lashing, thus reducing the number of OSP techs needed to place a new cable. (As a side benefit, the elimination of lashing also frees up existing copper cables for potential removal, which means companies can eliminate underutilized assets (and pole attachments) and potentially earn some salvage revenue.)
Taken as individual products, all of these items can be valuable to service providers looking to efficiently speed things up. But Corning combines all of these elements by including factory-installed terminals as part of the cable. Their studies show that this approach allows companies to install terminals 5 times faster with 10 times fewer field errors, saving up to 20% total installed cost.
According to Bob Whitman, Vice President, Global Market Development Carrier Networks, Corning Optical Communications, “What used to take 2 workers all day can now be installed by 1 technician in less than an hour. This solution allows for flexibility to allocate fibers for FTTH, small cell, or business class services by simply patching fibers in the hub.”
All of these innovations pair nicely with the work of the former 3M CMD, that has been working to simplify the in-home customer experience while improving aesthetics and reducing company costs.
One of the most expensive parts of any fiber install has been the termination of fiber into an ONT and running the inside wire (coax, Ethernet, etc.) used to deliver services inside the customer’s home or office. The use of peelable drops, where the service wire’s protective sheath pulls back to reveal a 900 µm clear fiber, helps eliminate some of the complexity and cost of a FTTH installation. This fiber can be easily pushed deep into the customer’s location using tools like their Clear Track solution, which allows a single tech to run a nearly invisible fiber to the best place to ensure Wi-Fi coverage. The fiber can then be easily terminated in a shuttered jack or wall plate.
This fiber jack enables devices like the desk top (i.e., smaller footprint) ONTs to be plugged in using shuttered fiber jumpers which protect the critical fiber end face in a specialized connector. This entire configuration not only speeds up an installation, it also simplifies troubleshooting and future installs because equipment can be installed and removed via simple plug-and-play technology.
By now you get the picture: the faster and more efficient we can make things, the more fiber can be placed by the providers. Granted I’ve just scratched the surface of things by focusing on just 1 partner (there are many other innovators out there). But when service providers’ partners work on enhancements to the construction and installation processes it’s a win-win for both the customers and the companies building these networks.
In the spirit of ending things on a high note, I’ll close the series with this win for all. I encourage you to re-read the NT series and consider what you can do with your own business to improve things — and don’t necessarily limit yourself to the OSP network. My only caution is to think carefully about this because you do not want to save costs at the risk of hurting the customer experience (or vice versa). This may sound like a dauting task, but I know it can be done.
(Editor’s note: Tom’s 2018 columns appear in ISE’s January, April, June, and December issues. You can read them at https://www.isemag.com in our back issues and the current issue.)
In closing I want to thank everyone who has helped me with this series, especially all of the folks that have taken the time to share their thoughts (often seen in quotes).
I’ll be returning in 2019 to share other insights that I hope can help you improve your business. Until then, I hope you have a great holiday season and a happy, healthy new year!