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Keeping the Fiber Lines Running Smoothly

Alan Breznick
11/4/2019

For communications service providers of every stripe, fiber is all the rage right now. Whether they be cable operators, traditional telcos, wireless carriers, utilities or municipal providers, they are all investing more in fiber these days for a variety of technological, financial, operational and competitive reasons.

More specifically, service providers are fortifying themselves with fiber to deliver faster broadband speeds, slash operational costs, offer advanced video services like 4K TV, support new wireless offerings like 5G and boost overall service reliability. Perhaps even more importantly, they are feasting on fiber to enhance their competitive marketing and positioning against rival service providers.

For evidence of this fiber-feeding frenzy around the world, look no further than the latest World Fixed Broadband Statistics from Point Topic, released over the summer. In its second-quarter 2019 roundup, Point Topic found that the number of global FTTH connections jumped 18.6% from the year-earlier period while the number of FTTx/VDSL lines climbed 7.1%. In contrast, the number of copper lines fell 6.6% during the same period.

Or check out the results from the latest Heavy Reading survey of cable operators about their fiber plans and prospects (put in link here). In that survey, conducted over the summer in partnership with SCTE/ISBE, about three-quarters of cable respondents (75%) reported their company expects to pass at least 250,000 more homes in its footprint with FTTP networks within the next three years. Further, over two-fifths of respondents (43%) said their company expects to pass at least 500,000 more homes with all-fiber lines by then.

Yet, even as they embrace fiber more tightly, service providers are running into challenges similar to the kind that they previously encountered with legacy coax and copper lines. One such major challenge, which we will address here, is testing and monitoring their new fiber lines.

Taking fiber to the test
There's no question that service providers highly value proper testing of their fibers. In the Heavy Reading study, for instance, nearly a half of cable respondents (49%) ranked testing as the most important element of the success of their company's fiber expansion, giving it a 1 rating. An additional 29% rated fiber testing a 2, and just 3% gave fiber testing the lowest ranking of 5.

But, while cablecos overwhelmingly view fiber testing as critical to their business success, they are far less confident about their own technicians' abilities to carry out the critical work. Just 24% of the surveyed cable executives expressed the highest level of confidence in their technicians' abilities to handle fiber (a 1 rating). Such findings reveal a large gap between the importance of fiber testing and the abilities of technicians to install and test the fiber properly.

So where can beleaguered cable operators and other service providers turn for help with fiber testing? Well, for one thing, they can tap into the new breed of automated fixed-line test solutions for FTTH, FTTB and FTTP networks that are now coming on the market.

Champions of such automated test solutions say they generally can enable service providers to improve network reliability and performance, bring new revenue-generating services to market quicker, cut expensive truck rolls and boost overall customer satisfaction. They contend that because these solutions are software-based, they can also be easy to install, do not require specialized test hardware and can scale easily as the network grows.

Bringing it down to the ground level, proponents argue that automated test solutions can improve the efficiency of field teams, cut the flood of customer service calls and lead to faster fault resolution in several key ways. As examples, they cite such automation attributes as lowering the number of dispatches by triggering truck rolls only when confirmed outages are identified, directing service calls more accurately to outage locations, identifying the issues during the customer's first call and testing service straight to the modem to identify whether the fault lies on the customer side or the network side.

Finally, proponents say, automated test solutions can make it easier for service providers to comply with government mandates and regulations, as well as meet key performance indicators (KPIs). So, they argue, just as automation can aid providers in other areas of their operations, it could be a big aid with fiber instalations.

This blog is sponsored by Enghouse Networks.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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