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Women In Comms

Mentor Spotlight: This 'doctor' researches a cure for GPON vendor interoperability

The problem of vendor interoperability has been a thorn in the sides of service providers for many years, as they try to balance cost considerations and product options with efficiency.

Maria Alejandro, FTTH global lab manager for GPONDoctor, co-founded GPONDoctor in 2016 to address vendor interoperability issues that arose as the GPON standard was being defined. At the time, Alejandro and her two co-founders were working in a major European research and development center called Tecnalia Research and Innovation, and were also collaborating with Telefónica, which was the first service provider to express interest in GPONDoctor's GPON Analyzer. "Now we are present in more than 30 countries all around the world and many of our customers are well-known companies in the telecommunications market," says Alejandro.

The GPONDoctor analyzer was initially used at PlugFests by the Broadband Forum. "In those interoperability sessions, devices from different vendors were tested and our analyzer played the role of a referee in the communication," explains Alejandro.

In this Women in Comms Mentor Spotlight, WiC caught up with Alejandro over email to discuss her approach to the dilemma of vendor interoperability, how she's improved automating test procedures for her customers, and her professional advice for other women in technical positions.

Maria Alejandro is the FTTH Global Lab Manager for GPONDoctor.
Maria Alejandro is the FTTH Global Lab Manager for GPONDoctor.

Women in Comms: Tell us a little about yourself and your role at GPONDoctor.

Maria Alejandro: I am an expert in OMCI (ONU Management and Control Interface), which is the layer in the protocol that defines how to configure the ONUs. ONUs are the devices that are installed in our homes when we subscribe to GPON fiber Internet service.

For my role as a founder at GPONDoctor, I would split it into two categories: external from the point of view of our customers, and internal from the point of view of the company itself.

Externally, I would say that my mission is to support our customers, not only during the analyzer presale stage when they are looking for a tool to solve their interoperability problems, but also finding out how to help them to optimize their FTTH networks. We have the tools and expertise to provide this support and this translates into projects such as: definition of test automation labs, training courses, consultancy services and development of new products.

Internally, I participate in the decision making of the company. I get involved in the definition of new products for our product catalog and, from the human point of view, I try to transmit encouragement, joy and serenity, because, as you probably can imagine, it is not always a walk in the park.

Women in Comms: Can you share a use case of how you've worked with a service provider to improve their FTTH GPON networks?

MA: Telefónica was our first customer. The first GPONDoctor analyzer was developed to solve their interoperability problems. Normally, telecom operators, at initial stages of a network deployment, use mono-vendor solutions. This option guarantees robustness and service reliability but, when the deployment reaches certain dimensions, and on the way to achieve more profitable networks, they often open the network to new entrants. This improves pricing for the devices but creates interoperability issues. Telefónica took a leading role in our origin but has been also present later in our history.

At the central office of the operator, we find the OLT (Optical Line Termination) and at the other end of the Optical Distribution Network, at the customer premises, we find the ONU (Optical Network Unit).

The OLT is the master in the GPON communication and this results in complex devices that assume the control of everything that happens in the network. The complexity of the OLTs led telecom operators to work with a few OLT models and vendors and expand the range of manufacturers in the ONT side.

On the journey toward interoperability, network failures arise and it is quite common that ONT vendors have to develop several firmware versions. Every time an ONT firmware version is released, and before using this firmware version in the field, a set of tests have to be executed and successfully passed in a lab to ensure the error is solved, and no collateral impact affects other aspects of the network.

This set of tests have to be passed per OLT model and this is something that, in a manual way, may take several weeks. Moreover, OLT vendors also produce new firmware releases that have to be checked facing the OLT to every ONU model.

As you may imagine, these tests increase the time since a network failure is detected until the new firmware that can solve the situation is finally updated in the device. Some years ago, the head of the access network laboratory contacted us and expressed his concern about the need to reduce the testing time. He conveyed to us his requirements and we worked in a proposal for a new Access Network Automated Lab. Telefónica contracted the project and several months later it was successfully delivered. It was an open solution so their own staff could expand the number of tests included in the platform. This way the staff would be dedicated to value-added tasks rather than repetitive non-value tasks derived from the manual execution of the tests.

There is another use case that was published here. Andorra is a tiny country located between Spain and France. The country is quite rich and very popular both for business and leisure. Andorra Telecom is the main telecom operator in the country and has always worked hard to provide high network performance.

With this objective in mind, they first deployed a wide EPON fiber network, but for several reasons (explained in the article) they finally decided to migrate to GPON.

GPONDoctor provided training courses to the company technicians and support at the initial stage of this process. In December 2017, they announced that the migration was successfully achieved, and all their customers (98% or homes and business) could enjoy speed Internet access at rates of 300 Mbit/s. We know that they continue to work hard to improve their network and they know that they can contact us for advice if necessary.

Next page: Applying automation to testing procedures

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