How to build fiber networks that are right for operators, users, and the planet
You’re no doubt familiar with the Project Management Triangle: the principle that, in any project, quality, time, and cost are co-dependent. If you want to go faster and increase quality, it comes at a higher cost. If you want something done cheaply, then speed or quality (or both) will have to be compromised. Anyone involved in broadband network deployments and upgrades is familiar with these constraints: communication service providers (CSPs), government-backed network builders, utility companies, communities, and private investors.
Increasingly, there is an additional constraint being factored in: the environmental and societal impacts of a network project. Concerns span the manufacture and delivery of network components, the consequences of field and civil works, through to the power consumption of a network. However, these can be mitigated and then become outweighed by the societal benefits of high-speed broadband, benefits that include improved health, education, and economic outcomes. These factors also have a relationship with time, cost and quality. And with connectivity and sustainability very much top of governmental agendas, it is vital that network deployments consider the societal impact alongside technologies and the business case.
While fiber is the ideal way to connect businesses and households, it takes longer and costs more than alternative technologies. Yet we are witnessing a surge in fiber deployments around the world, for several reasons: the acknowledgement that high-speed connectivity is vital for economic and social wellbeing; that fiber is the most performant, sustainable, and future-proof technology available; and that those factors together ensure fiber broadband delivers a dependable, long-term, return on investment.
Of course, we’ve been deploying fiber broadband networks for decades, so many of the considerations are well known. Instead, I will focus on more recent developments and opportunities that both old-hands (CSPs) and newcomers (government broadband initiatives, utilities, investors) should consider when it comes to balancing time, cost, quality, and environment.
Quality comes in two parts: the network deployment, and the resulting broadband service.
How well the deployment is managed has a significant impact on the other project parameters (time, cost, and environment). This is why partners are so important, choosing those who bring the right expertise to complement in-house resources.
It’s well-documented how project management expertise, together with tools and methodologies such as business case modeling, design and engineering capabilities, and automated network rollouts, ensure projects keep to time and within budget. What is less well evidenced are the societal and environmental impacts. If a street needs to be dug to lay fiber cable, then it had better only be done once, preferably at the same time as any other municipal or utility works in order to minimize the environmental impact and civil disturbance. Network design and civil works also dictate the impact of follow up maintenance and expansion activities. Designing as much automation and centralized network rollout control as possible into the network reduces subsequent field visits. Consideration of central office and cabinet locations and accessibility also minimize environmental and societal effects of future works.
The quality of the service that customers receive is a direct result of the choice of technologies. Fiber is a given, but which flavor? The service level and subscriber density are primary considerations, which dictate the capacity requirements and, ultimately, the choice between GPON, XGS-PON and 25G PON. There’s also the consideration of whether to use a fiber extension technology like fixed wireless access (FWA) or G.fast to connect premises where it is currently too complex or costly to draw fiber all the way.
But fiberization is no longer just about the active and passive infrastructure choices: it’s also about the cloud. Software-defined networking (SDN) provides a highly programmable network that enables the automation of many operational tasks, such as configurations, provisioning, and even proactive fault finding and resolution. However, a software-defined access network (SDAN) requires new knowledge in programming, system integration, and other software skills.
Here again, a network deployment partner makes a difference. Nokia's Cloud Acceleration Services offer a structured approach to help operators evaluate where SDAN can be best applied to their network and operating model. SDAN requires seamless integration: northbound to an operator’s legacy/next-gen OSS, southbound to multivendor OLTs and ONTs, as well as integration of the SDN access controller in the IT and cloud environment. Incidentally, SDAN can be implemented in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. With SaaS, operators don’t need the IT expertise nor the equipment to run the software. This reduces CAPEX and saves precious integration time.
Fiber rollout programs require a high initial investment for building the infrastructure, physically connecting customers, and activating their services. The risk of delay or budget overrun due to inefficiencies and unexpected hurdles with planning and implementation significantly impact the business case. To mitigate these risks, network builders must take a first-time-right approach that ensures an optimal network design, precise documentation, meticulous management of contractors, sub-contractors and in-house expertise, and a centralized and automated control of the network rollout end-to-end. Automation is extremely powerful for activating services. It enables complex, multi-step ONT activations to become an easy, self-provisioning process that can be used by customers and field technicians to simplify ONT provisioning. On projects where Nokia have applied approaches like these with our customers, we’ve seen a reduction in rollout costs of up to 30%.
As we’ve touched on, time is an important factor for the business case, and diligent planning and deployment is required to prevent overruns. Anything an operator can do to accelerate time to revenue is important.
We know that it takes time to create the fiber access network, physically draw fiber to every building, then activate each subscriber. FWA and G.fast have a role to play here, generating revenues quickly which can then be reinvested in further fiber connections. So, too, the cloud: the automation and programmability achievable with SDAN accelerate many FCAPS tasks, including the configuration and activation of network assets and services. Good fiber deployment project management practices, like we provide with our Digital Fiber Deployment and Care Services, result in predictable costs and quality, and the fastest time-to-market.
Post-rollout, customers need to be activated quickly. As we’ve touched on, a significant contributor to this is using network automation to enable customer self-install of their ONTs. As customers generally don’t like having to schedule and wait for field technician appointments, automation increases customer satisfaction while simultaneously saving time and money. With this approach, our customers have seen accelerated rollout times of up to 50%.
Customer self-install is a simple example of how time, quality, and cost considerations connect to the environment. By eliminating technician visits and their associated truck-rolls, operators significantly reduce their carbon emissions. In our simulations for a 500,000-subscriber network, even a 25% customer self-install rate will reduce CO2 emissions by roughly 500 tons.
These kinds of savings can be found throughout the lifecycle of a fiber project. At Nokia, we believe in a Design for Environment approach that considers all aspects of sustainability. Lifecycle thinking is a key component: through it, we reduce our environmental impact across production, operations, product use, takeback, and end of life.
For example, a low-level design file for a medium sized urban broadband project could represent 10kg of paper. Using digital tools during engineering and design limits the use of paper, increases reliability, reduces reworks, and automates processes. Smarter material ordering optimizes logistics, reduces waste and transportation. Design and material choices also help minimize waste and maximize component reusability and recyclability.
These kinds of savings all add up. Combined with product innovations, like our Quillion chipset which reduces power consumption for PON products by more than 50% compared to the industry average. In fact, we know that fiber broadband has a net positive effect on the environment. Not only it is the most power-efficient technology, it contributes to a 7-fold net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as broadband improves well-being, enhances education, enables efficiency gains, and reduces transportation.
Many would argue they already account for the environmental impact of their projects. But it’s only by considering the environment alongside time, cost and quality, and managing them together, that we can see deliver a network that is right for operators, customers, and the planet.
Nokia have made significant investments in world-class fiber access solutions, fiber deployment and care services, and cloud acceleration services to help operators do exactly this. From more than 270 fiber customers worldwide, we combine global experience with local expertise to enhance your skills and your capabilities where it matters most.
Eddy Vergauwen is Head of Fixed Networks Enterprise in the Europe Business Center at Nokia. He draws on more than 20 years of experience in marketing, strategy, business development, pre-sales and product management in CSP and Enterprise segments.