The Bit to See at CeBIT

CeBIT, HANOVER, Germany -- CeBIT may be the biggest high-tech trade show on Earth, but you wouldn't have guessed it from the lackluster list of optical networking product announcements today, the first day of this year's big Messe, as the Germans colorfully call it. The most exciting announcement probably came from Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A), which unveiled a new modular network tester (see Agilent Unveils Test Platform). Yes, a tester gets top billing in a trade show that last year clocked up 8,106 exhibitors and 850,000 vistors (see Countdown to CeBIT ). What is the world coming to?

To be fair, Agilent's new product is pretty nifty, because it gives a new meaning to the term "modular tester." Also, it could save carriers a ton of money, according to Agilent, and that's what really counts these days.

So, let's start with the modular moniker. Pretty much all the manufacturers of gear for testing optical stuff in the field claim to have modular solutions. Usually, that means they've got a chassis into which various modules can be slotted, such as an OTDR (optical time domain reflectometer), an optical spectrum analyzer, and dispersion measurement modules. If engineers don't need some of the modules, they can lighten their load by leaving them out. However, they still have to lug around the chassis.

Enter Agilent. Its tester is somewhat similar to the stackable networking gear sold to enterprise users. Its modules simply clip on to a standard front end, so there's no chassis with empty slots to cart around.

Agilent says the other big thing about its tester is that it's been designed to help field staff work more efficiently. Agilent's R&D folk spent a lot of time with carrier engineers, studying how they work and identifying common causes of inefficiency, and then built a tester to help them do their jobs faster.

Frank A. Maier, operations manager for Agilent's optical network test business unit, offers an example. Nowadays, cables often have 864 fibers in them, and, after installation, each fiber needs to have at least two wavelengths tested in two directions. That's a heck of a lot of testing, and the chore typically takes 72 hours. Agilent's gear cuts this to 9.6 hours, according to Maier.

Agilent claims similar improvements in efficiency in dealing with maintenance problems, pointing out that even a small improvement in efficiency equates to huge savings for carriers.

On a typical day, says Maier, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) receives 1 million phone calls reporting faults. About 95 percent are dealt with on the phone, but the remaining 5 percent -- 50,000 fault reports -- have to be dealt with by sending an engineer to investigate. To make matters worse, 22 percent of visits end up failing to rectify the fault, so an engineer has to make a return visit.

The bottom line, according to Maier, is that Verizon spends half its operating budget on fixing faults. Now, here's the amazing bit: Its operating budget totals a staggering $25 billion a year. By that reckoning, improving fault fixing efficiency by just one percent would save $125 million a year.

Agilent's new modular network tester, by the way, costs in the order of $24,000 for a typical setup.

At CeBIT, Agilent is in Hall 13, Booth C58 — Peter Heywood, Founding Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com For more information on CeBIT, please visit: www.lightreading.com/cebit

For more about the latest developments in test and measurement gear for installation and maintenance tasks, check out Light Reading's forthcoming Webinar on the topic, scheduled for March 28.

Peter Heywood 12/4/2012 | 10:47:14 PM
re: The Bit to See at CeBIT Peter Evans, senior VP of marketing at ONI Systems, gave me an interesting anecdote about Verizon this morning, when I met him at CeBIT.

He says that a few years ago, Verizon undertook a study on whether it would be worth its while putting in state of the art infrastructure into some very run-down areas of cities.

On the face of it, it sounds crazy because that's not where the customers with deep pockets hang out, but the reasoning was all based around reducing Verizon's huge spend on fault fixing.

The thing was that the telecom infrastructure in those run-down areas was so bad that lots of faults were reported, and when Verizon had to send engineers to fix the faults, they had to send 3 men rather than 1. One guy did the work, another guy guarded the truck and the third guy watched over the other two guys.
optigirl 12/4/2012 | 10:47:14 PM
re: The Bit to See at CeBIT Ah, the joys of union labor.....
rjmcmahon 12/4/2012 | 10:47:05 PM
re: The Bit to See at CeBIT Ah, the joys of union labor.....

Protecting company assets and company employees from the local thievery can be more expensive than the union labor. (On similar lines, it would be interesting to know the hidden costs per gallon, subsidized by western governments, associated w/protecting oil pipelines built on foreign soils.)

A network infrastructure which doesn't require a standing army to protect it does seem preferred. Maybe putting it in the sewers and letting the robots fix the faults would help solve the cost problems.

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