Accept That Fiber Acceptance Needs to Improve

Remember the bandwidth glut that once troubled the telecom industry? Not many people do, and those of us who had to experience it first-hand are closer to retirement now than we would care to admit. The truth is that it has been more than 15 years since the industry's top concern was having too much fiber capacity, and not enough customers or applications to fill it.

The much more pressing problem nowadays is the seemingly insatiable demand for fiber network capacity, driven by 4G (and soon 5G) mobile usage, the Internet of Things, 4K TV and many other applications and factors.

That demand has resulted in a surging economy for fiber network construction, which is no longer only the domain of traditional telcos. In recent years, many different entities that don't fit those profiles, including mobile carriers, Internet content providers, video network operators and others, have begun building their own networks. We also have seen the emergence of optical distribution network (ODN) operators, building large-scale networks with the main intent of leasing capacity to others.

This evolution has placed a higher premium on an already precious resource -- the skilled, experienced fiber technician. The ODN operators and other non-traditional network players are unlikely to have large in-house teams of technicians, but they need options to help them satisfy fiber testing requirements.

These requirements begin with the network construction and activation. Operators need to perform fiber acceptance testing at the outset, before activating network pipes. Construction contractors will have already have done this, but operators need to perform their own verification testing.

It's a task that can be very challenging in large networks, as at least two technicians usually need to work together to check both ends of a fiber with optical power meters and handheld optical time domain reflectometers (OTDRs). This can be time-consuming and inefficient, and in some cases, operators may end up having short-handed staff perform spot checks, rather than checking each fiber. Also, data from acceptance tests can easily be mishandled or incorrectly translated into other systems.

The challenges are especially concerning as the numbers of ODN and other non-traditional operators increase. The new generation of network operators sees a big business opportunity it can take advantage of, but to be able do this and be taken seriously as network operators, these players need to make sure they don't rush through fiber acceptance testing with too few technicians and a flawed process.

To offer high-level fiber quality assurance to the clients they are leasing to, they need to start looking into more comprehensive automated OTDR systems. Such systems, which can be embedded into optical line terminal equipment in a central office, can allow operators to test all of their fibers -- not just some through spot checking -- and dramatically speed up the process of fiber acceptance, and eventually, activation for clients.

Upgrading to such systems can save operators time and money, and speed up their realization of revenue from their networks. But, ultimately, moving in this direction might be more of a mandate than a choice, if the industry is to continue satisfying the ever-increasing hunger for bandwidth.

This blog is sponsored by Huawei.

— Dan O'Shea, Analyst, Heavy Reading

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