SaskTel’s FTTP Success Strategies

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6 Best Practices You Can Use —

SaskTel is a Communications Service Provider (CSP) in Saskatchewan, Canada. The company owns and operates Saskatchewan’s largest network that connects 99% of the population over an area of 651,900 square kilometres. With over 290,000 homes passed, our fiber network is the largest fiber network in the province.

We’ve been doing fiber for quite some time. In 1984, we completed the world’s longest commercial fiber optic system at the time, spanning a distance of 3,268 kilometres and connecting 52 of Saskatchewan’s largest communities.

Recently, we collaborated on one of the largest construction projects of the 20th Century: the English Channel Tunnel. SaskTel installed and tested the communications system, and SaskTel International performed the design and detailed system audits.

In addition, our in-province fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) program extends fiber optics directly to a customer’s home or business to provide increased bandwidth that enables feature-rich television, high-speed Internet, and voice services.

Take the Best, Leave the Rest

When it comes to best practices, it’s important to analyze fiber projects from both the start AND along the way. Below are 6 best practices we recommend as you execute on your fiber network deployment plans

Best Practice #1. Understand the financial benefits of a fiber-based network.
We studied a small community that converted to a complete fiber network. There, we identified significant operational savings and continuous month-over-month revenue increases compared to traditional copper-based networks. We also found that operationally, trouble reports decreased by approximately 15% and dispatched troubles decreased by over 60%. What’s more, we noted an increase in the uptake of enhanced services that were previously unavailable on DSL-based access, reducing customer churn.

In terms of the construction phase of this project, we noticed that more customers were serviced in shorter periods of time due to several of fiber’s attributes: smaller cable size, and lighter-weight construction. Post-construction benefits include fiber’s resistance to water, moisture, cold, and fire.

Best Practice #2. Realize that the best laid plans might not work.
SaskTel put substantial planning, labour, and effort into developing an FTTP strategy with ambitious completion targets. Three years into the project, we took a hard look at what we were trying to accomplish, and adjusted the project duration.

This important re-assessment identified strategy gaps that were previously unidentified in the planning stage. Aerial drops, for example, were moving ahead as planned but buried drops were taking significantly longer to complete than estimated. The lag in buried drops was attributed to seasonal conditions and coordinating third-party resources for underground utility location.

Remember: it’s important to validate assumptions, and to identify where seasonality, disruption to customers, and hidden costs, may hinder progress.

Best Practice #3. Directional drilling and trenching are costly but efficient in the long run.
Saskatchewan’s construction season lasts from May to November. During these months, the ground is thawed and receptive to dirt work. Early in the project, we assessed each property on a case-by-case basis, and used a combination of hand-dig, trenching, and directional drilling methods, to complete each service drop. SaskTel technicians strived to leave a small footprint when hand-digging through customer gardens, lawns, and patios. Still, damage is inevitable.

We learned that directional drilling and trenching, albeit costlier in the short run, is significantly faster and greatly increases customer satisfaction levels with minimal property invasion.

Best Practice #4. Don’t forget about organizational structure.
Every corporate structure is different, but a major takeaway for CSPs is to develop an organizational reporting structure that includes a dedicated leadership role. An effective reporting structure ensures there is visibility into all areas of the business, including subcontractors and employees.

In the early stages of this initiative, senior leaders were trying to do their primary business roles plus the initiation of the FTTP program on the side. This made it very difficult to do justice to either portfolio.

Today, SaskTel has an Assistant Vice President, Director of FTTP Operations, and an entire project team dedicated to the success of this project. This has improved decision making and communication.

SaskTel uses a variety of tools for communicating with subcontractors, employees, and superiors. Weekly update meetings, and tracking spreadsheets with collaboration capabilities, have been extremely valuable to maintain schedules and quality assurance.

Best Practice #5. Communicate with customers early and often.
Customers are the most valuable part of the project, and must be communicated with early and often. SaskTel uses a variety of methods to communicate with customers. Each customer receives a personally addressed letter indicating that work will be performed at their premises. Prior to commencement of work, technicians distribute door-knockers to remind home and business owners that work will begin shortly.

Most importantly, customers must be educated on what will transpire on their property, and the associated
time commitment for activities such as hydro-vac, directional drilling, trenching, and restoration.

Once work is in progress, technicians place signage, have decals on company vehicles, and wear reflective vests with company logos, to provide community awareness.

Best Practice #6. Keep an eye on your investment along the way.
SaskTel’s success lies with employees who have firsthand knowledge of what installations should look like. Without compromising quality, we also use contractors to supplement employees in times of peak demand. Contractors are held to the same standards as employees through the entire process.

It is important to understand how well employees and contractors are performing so leadership can work with them to overcome obstacles and to uphold the conversion schedule.

In addition to quality assurance, we also conduct annual economic reviews to understand the per-premises cost for aerial and buried service drops, lot service, and service connection. The annual review is crucial for validating business case assumptions and for planning future growth targets.

Fiber for the Future

SaskTel considers broadband our North Star, which represents the core value we bring to customers. SaskTel sees fiber as a key focus for meeting customer’s current and future bandwidth demands. With the experience and innovation gained through SaskTel’s fiber journey thus far, the future is bright. Over time, SaskTel and SaskTel International will continue to improve design and implementation approaches which will expand our reach and services to underserved communities around the world.

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Co-authored by Tim Ludwar and Scott Argue

Tim Ludwar is SaskTel’s Director of FTTP Operations. He is an industry-recognized expert in fiber network deployments, and has presented to North American audiences.

Scott Argue is SaskTel International’s VP of Customer Service; he has more than 29 years of experience in Information Technology and Telecommunications. Scott is a key contributor to SaskTel International’s global market growth.

SaskTel International is a wholly-owned subsidiary of SaskTel, providing software and professional consulting services worldwide. SaskTel has over $1.2 billion in annual revenue and approximately 1.35 million customer connections globally, including 290,000 FTTP homes passed, 110,000 FTTP homes connected, 611,000 wireless accesses, 338,000 wireline network accesses, and 283,000 Internet accesses. SaskTel International has access to SaskTel’s pool of approximately 3,900 employees and unparalleled experience to help businesses develop a FTTP strategy. For more information e-mail info@sasktelinternational.com or visit our website https://www.sasktelinternational.com/.

 

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About Author

Scott Argue is SaskTel International’s VP of Customer Service; he has more than 29 years of experience in Information Technology and Telecommunications. Scott is a key contributor to SaskTel International’s global market growth.

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