& cplSiteName &

Automating Field Tests to Boost Operational Efficiency

James Crawshaw
8/18/2017
50%
50%

Question: How many field technicians does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: Two -- one to change the bulb, and another to enter the test data.

While that gag may not get me a gig at the Montreal International Comedy festival, it will resonate with telecom field technicians who struggle with legacy test and measurement tools. Telecom field technicians, many of whom are now outsourced, spend as much as half their work time performing "bookkeeping" activities such as entering data into test units and uploading test results into databases. And yes, in some cases two technicians are actually sent to carry out a test: one to do the test and the other to enter data. No joke.

Often the data inputted by field technicians contains errors and needs "scrubbing." For example, the wrong test-point IDs and test-result filenames might have been entered. Incorrect test steps and individual tests may have been performed. Another common problem is that the wrong pass/fail thresholds may have been used for a test resulting in a false positive or negative. Often the mistakes can just be down to simple data entry mistakes such as typos or forgetting to fill in all the fields. The upshot of all this is that field technicians waste excessive time on tests that generate low-quality data.

Further up the chain of command, we have the project manager who receives reports (closeout packages) from the field technicians. These reports, containing thousands of test results, are often in PDF format, which is great for human readability but hopeless for analyzing the enormous quantity of data involved. Consequently, most project managers are only able to conduct spot checks (verification) of the test results for compliance with network standards. Obviously, this leaves plenty of scope for non-compliance and resultant network quality problems. Needless to say, this can lead to service issues, delays in construction and deployment, cost overruns, subscriber churn and reputational damage for the service provider.

Telecom operators need to move from complex, error-prone manual test processes, where too much time is wasted on admin, to more automated, consistent and streamlined test procedures where admin is minimized. Automated test procedures (delivered digitally, direct to the tool or smart device) not only make the field technician's life easier, but the higher-quality data they collect can enable managers to better evaluate project activity, network deployment progress and contractor efficiency.

To make the technician's job simpler (thereby minimizing training requirements), the job definition should include predefined test point IDs (e.g., fiber/bulkhead connector), the specified test (e.g., transport link validation) and context-sensitive, step-by-step instructions. Configurations should be flexible, so that technicians can carry out their tasks without unnecessary delays. Test results should be automatically logged and uploaded (without the need for post-test spreadsheet data entry) to a centralized server.

This centralized server should have an analytics engine that identifies any detected errors (network standard non-compliance) and requests the relevant remediation (ideally while the technician is still in situ). The consolidated test results of all field technicians might also be analyzed to determine contractor efficiency, network progress and project activity.

For many operators, today's field testing is highly inefficient, and technician productivity is low. This is affecting their ability to deploy new infrastructure fast enough to meet market demand or identify faults to keep existing customers happy. With test automation, the time to implement tests might be reduced by as much as 50%, and the time wasted on post-test data entry could be eliminated entirely. Furthermore, automation can reduce the error rate of test data both at data collection time and when inputting into systems to pass on to field managers. Reduced human error translates into higher QoE for customers and lower opex for the telcos. And that's no laughing matter.

— James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst, OSS/BSS Transformation, Heavy Reading

This blog is sponsored by EXFO.

(0)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
More Blogs from Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
NICs have evolved many times, and the smart NIC is the next step, offering a programmable resource that can be configured to provide additional CPU offload functions for different applications.
Operators are applying artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to leverage the power of their new programmable, software-based networks.
This year's show evinced healthy interest in effectively using data and analytics to run telecom businesses better, but how well are operators actually doing with it?
FTTx rollouts need a more automated process for collecting and analyzing test results, and analytics could provide the answer.
Driven by web-scale Internet companies, three key trends – disaggregation in terminals, open line systems and 100G+ transponders – are reshaping the DCI market.
Featured Video
From The Founder
Light Reading is spending much of this year digging into the details of how automation technology will impact the comms market, but let's take a moment to also look at how automation is set to overturn the current world order by the middle of the century.
Flash Poll
Upcoming Live Events
November 30, 2017, The Westin Times Square
March 20-22, 2018, Denver Marriott Tech Center
May 14-17, 2018, Austin Convention Center
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
SmartNICs aren't just about achieving scale. They also have a major impact in reducing CAPEX and OPEX requirements.
Hot Topics
Nokia Bell Labs & Verizon Stretch Fixed 5G to the Home
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 11/13/2017
Juniper's New Contrail VP Hails From Google
Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading, 11/15/2017
Eurobites: Telefónica Reckons Plastic Is Fantastic for FTTH
Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, 11/15/2017
Animals with Phones
Why Cats Don't Run Tech Support Click Here
Live Digital Audio

Understanding the full experience of women in technology requires starting at the collegiate level (or sooner) and studying the technologies women are involved with, company cultures they're part of and personal experiences of individuals.

During this WiC radio show, we will talk with Nicole Engelbert, the director of Research & Analysis for Ovum Technology and a 23-year telecom industry veteran, about her experiences and perspectives on women in tech. Engelbert covers infrastructure, applications and industries for Ovum, but she is also involved in the research firm's higher education team and has helped colleges and universities globally leverage technology as a strategy for improving recruitment, retention and graduation performance.

She will share her unique insight into the collegiate level, where women pursuing engineering and STEM-related degrees is dwindling. Engelbert will also reveal new, original Ovum research on the topics of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, security and augmented reality, as well as discuss what each of those technologies might mean for women in our field. As always, we'll also leave plenty of time to answer all your questions live on the air and chat board.

Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Partner Perspectives - content from our sponsors
The Mobile Broadband Road Ahead
By Kevin Taylor, for Huawei
All Partner Perspectives