FTTX Build and Connect and the importance of “first time right”
Over the past few years, there has been an explosion in the deployment of optical fiber networks. It seems like everyone—service providers as well as pure-play fiber network operators—is building a fiber network to the premises (FTTP), home (FTTH) or office (FTTB), collectively known as FTTX. There are several drivers of this worldwide phenomenon:
- Remote working/learning: the pandemic forced huge swaths of the population to work and learn from home. The resulting traffic put severe pressure on residential networks. Fiber networks (e.g., PON, GPON, XGS-PON) were seen as the right solution for providing required levels of bandwidth and responsiveness.
- Network convergence: service providers are leveraging FTTX network buildouts to meet the need for 5G network densification, meaning that the same fiber bundle that provides residential and business connectivity is also responsible for delivering critical mobile services.
- National strategies for broadband inclusiveness: countries around the world have developed strategies for deploying fiber to deliver high-speed internet access in urban and rural areas. In many cases, governments are providing construction subsidies as well as subsidies for subscribers.
- Aggressive competition. Pure play fiber network providers (aka Alt-Nets), many backed by institutional investors with strict timelines for generating cash flows and positive returns on investment, are racing to be first to market. The most successful are building, activating and monetizing networks at a high tempo.
The status quo (PMO) is challenging
Service providers, Alt-Nets and their contractors are under pressure to build more network coverage, do it faster and with better quality—all within budget. As they attempt to thread the needle in the present mode of operation (PMO), they face several challenges:
- High staff turnover and difficulty in recruiting skilled personnel.
- Complex network buildouts requiring coordination across multiple phases of construction in multiple areas at any given time.
- Costly training for a low-skilled workforce on complex testing tools.
- High rates of initial failure during validation, qualification and activation. These require expensive truck rolls to locate and rework to fix, and additional time to test, which can negatively impact build schedules.
- Limited visibility onto the quality and progress of the build during construction. Progress reports and test results require manual reconciliation before closing out work orders.
- Inability to scale and accelerate fiber deployments due to inferior initial quality and the time required to repair and test.
FTTX network construction is a massive undertaking, particular in the built environment. Each neighborhood, each home or business location is different and requires a special plan to connect to the fiber network. The resulting network schematics and construction plans are unique to each project, making each network build a complex proposition. In addition, there is constant pressure to build at or under budget.
Due to challenges with workforce ability—and availability—build quality often leaves much to be desired, with some providers seeing up to 30% of fiber links fail initially. Each fiber impairment must be located, a technician dispatched to fix it, work performed, and the link tested anew before the work order can be closed. The time and expenses add up, threatening activation schedules and budgets.
The opportunity (FMO) to build fiber networks differently
There is a massive opportunity to do better when building and activating FTTX networks. This future mode of operation (FMO) is made possible by leveraging technology in the form of an automated solution for fiber testing and monitoring, complemented by on-demand testing.
During the build and connect phase of FTTX network construction:
- There is an opportunity to build quality into the network to achieve the vision of “first time right” while not adding to the complexity of field activities.
- It’s a scenario where the whole FTTX network has been tested, automatically documented and validated prior to customer activation. There is full visibility of the built network and a single source of truth that speeds troubleshooting.
- As a result, there is less need for follow-on work by technicians and the network is monetized faster.
During the operations and maintenance phases:
- By virtue of building quality into the network (via “first time right”), there is significant reduction in initial fiber impairments. This reduces the volume of incidents that require a technician visit.
- The fiber testing and monitoring also establishes a birth certificate prior to activation and then, via regular monitoring, analyzes current network performance relative to the birth certificate, generating an alert when a performance threshold (e.g., optical loss, backscatter) is met.
- Integration of the automated fiber testing solution with a geographical information system makes it feasible to pinpoint a fiber impairment to within a few feet. As a result, technicians can be dispatched to the right locations to fix impairments without having to locate them first. Consequently, there is an opportunity to significantly reduce the time needed to restore services to contracted levels, while keeping the need for truck rolls to a minimum.
- Continuous monitoring and on-demand tests simplify the isolation—or not—of fiber as the root cause during troubleshooting of network impairments.
The benefits of a new approach to building FTTX networks
There are several benefits that can be realized when moving to an automated fiber testing and monitoring solution in the context of an FTTX build and connect scenario. They include:
- 100% of fibers tested at a much lower cost than the status quo which only sees a small percentage of fibers tested.
- Reduction of defects to low single digits (1–2 % of fibers instead of initial rates of as high as 30% with the status quo).
- Reduction of expensive rework and truck rolls. First-time-right quality means fewer repairs are needed.
- Geolocation of fiber impairments means less time is required to find the impairment and technicians can be dispatched to where they can be most effective.
- Faster network build-out and activation. With on-demand tests measured in seconds, it doesn’t take long to validate the network’s performance (e.g., optical loss) while building it out. Short test times mean shorter test queues, so all technicians can test as they build. Automated FTTX testing at scale can run at night, with actionable results made available the next morning.
- Hassle-free customer activations. When quality has been built into the network right from the start—and impairments caught through automated and on-demand FTTX testing—customer activations are much more likely to go according to plan. Faster complication-free activations make for happier customers and positive word of mouth.
- Faster network monetization (and first to market). With fewer repairs and smoother customer activations, the network can be monetized sooner, generating the cash flows that support the investment business case. It may even be possible to market the FTTX network sooner than competitors, capturing the very best customers early on.
EXFO remote fiber testing and monitoring (RFTM) solution
EXFO’s remote fiber testing and monitoring (RFTM) is a real-time solution for testing and monitoring FTTX networks from centralized test heads managed by the most scalable and secure entity management system (EMS). With high-density test heads and switches, RFTM provides centralized and automatic testing of all fibers at the feeder/F1 section. Automated tests can be run overnight, providing actionable results the next morning.
A mobile application (Android, iOS) and a low-cost high-reflectance demarcation (HRD) device enable technicians to perform on-demand testing at the F2 and F3 distribution sections and with drop cables. On-demand tests take only 5 seconds, meaning that test queues are kept short, enabling technicians to get on with building the network.
As a result, instead of only testing a portion of deployed fibers as currently practiced by most network builders, the FMO sees 100% of fiber connections tested, qualified and documented. This facilitates progress reporting and work order closure (which drives contractor payment), enables hassle-free customer activation and accelerates network monetization.
By engineering quality into the network with exhaustive—automated and on-demand—testing at each step of the build, it is possible to construct the network faster, minimize rework, limit truck rolls and activate customers without surprises.
Service providers and Alt-Nets can model their investments more aggressively and demonstrate earlier payback as well as recurring improvements to operational and financial metrics owing to:
- RFTM’s CAPEX-friendly deployment model
- The higher initial quality RFTM enables
- Extensive documentation of progress and test results
- The reduction in OPEX from more efficient use of technical personnel, tools and vehicles
EXFO’s RFTM solution enables a new future mode of operation for FTTX build and connect for service providers and Alt-Nets. An added benefit is that the same hardware and software solution can be leveraged to perform ongoing fiber network performance monitoring. As a result, the full fiber lifecycle can be managed from a single solution.