5G REALITIES —
How has working toward 5G preparedness and deploying 5G impacted you and your team?
Lisa Truppa, Assistant Vice President – Technology, AT&T: AT&T has been working for several years to help define the standards for 5G. Now that we’re actively in the race to deploy, our challenges have shifted from understanding and planning for the standards to the challenges of speed to market. We’ve got a relatively small group of employees that are experts in this area. Getting time with them to help develop training for the rest of our employee base is tough when they are faced with the reality of deployment everyday, but we feel it’s important to spend the time educating the rest of our work force while we build so that we all understand the power of 5G for our customers.
Scot Bohaychyk, Manager, Product Marketing, Clearfield: 5G and all that surrounds it is impacting nearly every company in telecom. At Clearfield, we were aware early that 5G would involve fiber usage at a level that the industry has not experienced. Products like our FieldShield® pre-connectorized pushable fiber and microducts ideally support the needs of 5G densification projects. Specifically, connections in the Radio Access Network (RAN) do not require high fiber counts, but do require a small form factor and easy installation — areas in which Clearfield excels. As 5G projects move from limited deployment to mass market, the Clearfield team stands ready to easily field the increased needs of our 5G customers.
Jeff Chapman, EVP, Operations, NorthState Communications: 5G is driving fiber demand to new levels and Fronthaul networks are redefining fiber deployment. This opportunity creates extensive planning and design processes to proactively address the growing increase for dense fiber routes throughout each service area. As a result of this, design and planning teams are being tasked with more variables to manage due to increased fiber demands and future requirements. Thinking outside of the box isn’t encouraged, it’s required to be successful in today’s fiber environment.
What network-related project are you most proud of in your career?
Daniel Ashton, Senior Engineer – Electrical Protection (ICEP), CenturyLink: In 2004, as an outside plant network technician in New Mexico, I was able to implement and manage a field trial for a “new”, low-cost form of surge protection for remote electronic cabinets. The technology could detect AC surges, sags and lightning before the equipment was at risk and could disconnect commercial power, line and neutral, which removed the secondary path to ground through the AC neutral connection in the DC rectifiers. Safety grounds are not disconnected. This essentially made the remote cabinet a true single-point grounded cabinet which eliminated a path for surge currents through the rectifiers, as well as the equipment inside the cabinet. Although there were some minor issues with the technology at that time, the benefits of eliminating the equipment damage and subsequent outages far outweighed those issues. The latest version of the technology, which has been recently deployed to 2 sites in Texas, is vastly improved from the original field trial system and continues to be a low-cost solution for AC and lightning surge protection at remote electronic cabinets.
Kim Shepherd, CEO, Skyline Membership Corp / SkyBest Communications: The network-related project that we are most proud of was unfortunately born out of necessity. We called the project loop mitigation. During the initial launch of our FTTP network, we regularly used flat, un-routed VLANs. As our network grew, these VLANs caused numerous service-affecting outages and considerable stress for our employees. We made a concerted effort to eliminate these VLANs in an effort to eliminate those issues. The project took several months to complete but was overwhelmingly successful and well worth the time and effort involved.
COMMUNITIES AND COLLABORATION
Share the best way service providers and communities should collaborate to offer residents the high-speed broadband that is necessary to keep their communities vibrant.
Jeff Chapman, EVP, Operations, NorthState Communications: Our focus has been on building relationships with local Municipalities, Residential/Commercial Developers and Home Owners Associations to address the demand for high-speed services and enhance all aspects of the community. Being able to partner with these entities and promote fiber-based services, which support the demand of Cloud Services and OTT content, is extremely valuable to the home/business owner in today’s environment.
Ben Goth, Vice President of Network Services, TDS Telecom: Strong partnerships are required between communities and service providers, especially when there’s a competitive marketplace. In these situations, where communities make building and supporting a new, competitive network as simple and straight-forward as possible, service providers will actively seek out partnerships to collaborate and meet the Internet speed requirements of the community. Open communication is also critical and key to maintaining a strong relationship that results in the successful delivery of broadband service.
Since rip-and-replace is not a workable strategy for transforming the legacy core network, what are the best strategies to upgrade the copper plant to deliver fiber-like speeds?
Daniel Ashton, Senior Engineer – Electrical Protection (ICEP), CenturyLink: I see 2 things that must happen for utilizing the copper cable infrastructure for higher speeds. First, the copper plant must be maintained. Too much of the copper infrastructure has been allowed to deteriorate to the point it can’t support high-speed Internet. In some instances, it will need to be replaced when repairs are not economically feasible. The second need will be strategically placed fiber nodes which will shorten the copper loops. A pre-engineering study could help determine the best location for placing the nodes to achieve optimum coverage. As new technology is developed for delivering HSI over copper, the approval/deployment process needs to be streamlined for better efficiency and quicker market-to-field deployments.
When telecom providers lay off employees that care for their wireline networks, what does that mean for both the wireline and wireless networks of the future?
Lisa Truppa, Assistant Vice President – Technology, AT&T: We all understand that wireless can only get so far — at some point you still need the fiber in the ground (i.e., our wireline network). At the same time, all of us are pushing for more efficient ways of maintaining that network so we can afford to deliver the “next G”. That means actively driving for automation when it makes sense. That doesn’t mean fewer jobs, necessarily, but rather different jobs. At AT&T, we’re proud to have offered a variety of different upskilling and reskilling programs to our employees over the years.
5G will not be able to meet its performance goals without cell densification. In fact, hyper-densification is required to deliver the promise of 5G.
What work still needs to be done in this area?
Scot Bohaychyk, Manager, Product Marketing, Clearfield: Standardizing on connector types, especially those used in 5G small cell locations at the Remote Unit (RU), Distribution Unit (DU) and Central Unit (CU), can have a material impact on improving the 5G fiber business case. When each manufacturer has their own proprietary connector, it leads to only a few manufacturers being able to provide the needed cabling, which restricts supply. Standardizing connector types improves economics, increases supply and reduces lead times. With densification projects increasing in frequency every day, the need to diversify suppliers has become imperative. Extended 6-10 week lead times waiting on proprietary connectors will slow down the hyper-densification model. At Clearfield, we target lead times of 2 weeks or less for our products, and with most of our widely used products with industry standard connectors, 8-10 days is our norm.
NETWORK EVOLUTION PAINS
What is your biggest pain point across the wireline and wireless networks?
How can the industry help solve it?
Kim Shepherd, CEO, Skyline Membership Corp / SkyBest Communications: Our biggest pain point regarding network evolution is the uncertainty surrounding vendors in the networking space. Mergers and acquisitions can change the landscape of the industry and your evolution plans as a service provider overnight. Last year, we witnessed our primary routing vendor being absorbed by another vendor who subsequently dropped the routing platform we were using from their portfolio altogether. A similar scenario happened again last year when our primary transport vendor was absorbed by a large networking vendor who just last month announced end-of-life for the transport platform we are using which is less than 3 years old.
Ben Goth, Vice President of Network Services, TDS Telecom: The biggest pain point across the network is getting enough capacity to satisfy customers insatiable appetite for bandwidth, reliability, and speed. Demand for fiber is growing, and in most cases, fiber capacity is what’s needed to resolve this pain point. The industry could help with this issue by driving solutions to better utilize existing fiber infrastructure at lower costs, working to implement standards/solutions to allow the construction of networks at lower costs, and supporting action to reduce hurdles to build networks in a timely and cost-effective manner. Currently, when new technologies are developed to add capacity to the wireline or wireless networks, they require dedicated fibers. In turn, this requires all providers to implement individual solutions, which drives the need to build far more fiber in the network. As an industry, we need to work together to make building fiber (networks) more cost-effective for everyone.
What are some best practices for optimizing the wireline and wireless telecom networks?
Eliminating flat VLANs. A flat VLAN is a network loop / broadcast storm just waiting to happen. When our FTTP network was in its infancy, we had flat VLANs running all over the network. However, we quickly learned how dangerous that can be, and now we eliminate them at all costs.
Keep detailed records. This sounds like a given but having good records is paramount for running a fully optimized network. Knowing what links carry what type of traffic and where those links terminate can mean the difference between calm, routine maintenance and a chaotic, major outage!
Mitigate the failure domain. Whenever possible we push routing and network intelligence as close to our customers as possible. This accomplishes several things including mitigating the failure domain. The thought process is that if we lose a router or an FTTP node near the network’s edge, we will minimize the impact to our customers and our staff as opposed to the outage occurring closer to the network’s core.
OTT AND INFRASTRUCTURE CHALLENGES
Over-the-top (OTT) service growth, fueled by streaming video and public demand for non-linear media consumption is a given. However, with this, further financial and infrastructure pressure will be placed on network operators.
What are some solutions to this problem?
Ben Goth, Vice President of Network Services, TDS Telecom: As user bandwidth consumption continues to rise, providers must change and update their networks to stay ahead of the demands. This places strain on the entire network (including the home and Last Mile) and requires ongoing review in order to adequately forecast planned solutions for swift upgrades. The challenge with forecasting is the need for visibility into where the next major usage spike will be originating, especially when it is caused by non-linear media. Providers must find new ways to optimize the network and how the network is operated. These findings will be critical to providers looking to successfully reduce financial and infrastructure pressures in advance of the next unpredictable over-the-top (OTT) service that will undoubtedly drive increases in bandwidth usage. I’m hopeful AI will provide needed enhancements to forecasting and help in predicting the changes that are difficult (unpredictable) using current tools and methods.
TECHNICIAN FIBER TESTING
With fiber going deeper to prep the foundation for 5G, a shortage of qualified technicians who can efficiently install and test fiber is already being felt. The BT Group alone announced that nearly 3,000 new trainees will be recruited during 2019 to support its fiber deployments. Many of these new employees are completely new to fiber testing, coming from a copper or electrical background.
Is your organization facing something similar? What is your organization doing in this area to train technicians in fiber testing?
Scot Bohaychyk, Manager, Product Marketing, Clearfield: Clearfield is focused on getting to know the needs of our customers, educating them on our products and technology, and supporting them when needed in the field. We built Clearfield College because our customers were seeking ways to educate their technician workforce. This year, we announced a new Certified Fiber Optic Training (CFOT) program endorsed by the Fiber Optic Association (FOA) for fiber optic technicians. We also continue to offer Certified Partnership Training with optional BICSI credits. Finally, our series of online educational courses at Clearfield College focus on fiber applications. These courses provide a basic understanding of fiber optic technology, product knowledge and show how Clearfield’s integrated product systems work together in a fiber network. Our classroom courses are designed around lectures, demos, hands-on practice, open discussions and question/answer time.
Jeff Chapman, EVP, Operations, NorthState Communications: I think all fiber companies have felt this pain at some point. The demands for skilled fiber technicians is on the rise and we have expanded our resources through internal training and education. Our fiber technicians are subject matter experts and their knowledge is priceless. They have been key in the success of training and preparing other technical employees with fiber testing through a hands-on environment. This training has expanded our testing capabilities and reduced truck rolls as a result.
Attracting and keeping top millennial talent is a burning issue for leaders. Millennials are 35% of the workforce. By 2020 they’ll be 46% of the working population.
What do we need to attract and keep young talent in the ICT industry?
Lisa Truppa, Assistant Vice President – Technology, AT&T: I lead our Technology Development Program (TDP) for AT&T. While we hear a lot about millennials in the media, we are now actually hiring Gen Zers! At AT&T, we now have 4 generations of workers working together for the first time: Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. The commonality between all of these generations is they want challenging work. For the younger generations, they also want a way to connect to something bigger — environmental impact, for example. We have to create an environment at work that explicitly lets them see the connection of what we do to that great good. This can take the form of Zero Waste programs in the office and/or community days where we encourage our managers to take 1 paid day off a year to give their time to a charity of their choosing.
Share 1 problem/challenge that you are passionate about solving for the ICT Industry.
Daniel Ashton, Senior Engineer – Electrical Protection (ICEP), CenturyLink: Unstable AC power and unpredictable lightning events make electrical protection of the communication industry facilities paramount. As a CenturyLink Inductive Coordination and Electrical Protection Engineer, this area of network reliability is my team’s responsibility. Proper grounding, bonding and surge protection installation are critical to protecting network equipment from damage and avoiding major service outages.
Thank You to our 2019 ICT Visionaries. Look for more insights in the December issue.