Bandwidth usage of access networks (or the last mile) continues to grow as service providers migrate to all-IP services (IP Video, 4K Video, and other business services). Traffic from on-demand services also continues to skyrocket while total Internet usage increases 50 percent year over year.
The steep increase in bandwidth demand is motivating cable operators around the world to migrate their access Hybrid Fiber COAX (HFC) network to a Distributed Access Architecture (DAA). Doing so allows them to better compete with other fiber-based or over-the-top (OTT) service providers who already offer high-speed services that many of today’s existing HFC-based networks can’t support. Traditional methods of increasing bandwidth over HFC, such as adding Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM), moving channels to DOCSIS, splitting nodes, and other methods, will not be tenable shortly.
“Fiber Deep” network upgrades (referred to as N + 0 architecture) are also a stepping stone for future HFC network technology upgrades like EPON, FTTX, and 5G wireless. Industry estimates indicate Fiber Deep projects will impact millions of customers in 2018 across all markets in the US.
Technologically, by driving the fiber deeper, the optical-to-electrical conversion of signals is pushed closer to subscribers (typically within a few hundred feet of homes or businesses), which increases potential bandwidth. When the length of the coaxial cable is shortened, the size of node service area is reduced. This allows cable operators to trim operational expenses such as maintenance, power, troubleshooting costs, and eliminates or reduces the requirement of RF amplifiers, which provide higher network availability and improved network performance. Deep fiber rollouts also help cable operators support the business imperative of offering a larger array of new services that require higher bandwidth and—as needed—pave the way for future fiber to the home (FTTH) migration paths.
Fiber deep challenges
From both the business and technology perspectives, moving forward with a Fiber Deep network upgrade is a strategic initiative. However, as providers started rolling out Fiber Deep, they face several operational challenges that impacted the velocity of the network rollout. The challenges on the infrastructure side are becoming increasingly clear—cable operators are well versed in the technologies needed to make this happen. But on the network side, and in the back office, the challenges for cable operators are just emerging—many don’t know what they don’t know.
A few of the key reasons:
- Fiber Deep migration is a brown field operation, meaning part of the existing HFC network (COAX) is re-used. Fiber Deep node migration impacts customer services; hence, careful planning is required to minimize downtime.
- Resources in operations (network and business) and IT teams are unable to keep up with the future strategic roadmap initiatives for HFC Network (digital fiber, Virtual CMTS, RPHY, and EPON to name a few).
A typical Fiber Deep project requires a multitude of staff — approximately 250 people to manage, coordinate, and collaborate within teams and across functions for any given project. Communications with customers must be clear, timely, and accurate for smooth Fiber Deep rollouts. At most cable operators, this represents a huge challenge because:
- Operations teams need to manage the day-to-day operations (incident management, capacity build, and service provisioning) as well as strategic initiatives like Fiber Deep
- There’s a lack of a standard set of processes across every department that Fiber Deep projects touch within the cable operator
- Communications vary by department – different managers have different processes and different ways of getting things done
- Internal customer service, ordering, and fulfillment tools vary
- Differences in communication mediums cause delays and are time-consuming to reconcile
- BSS/OSS capabilities not readily available to support the network upgrade and many of the activities are manual. Some of the key functions required in the OSS/BSS systems are:
- Planning – The ability to identify and qualify the geographical area (market or region) that requires fiber upgrade; requires data from multiple systems from CRM to service assurance
- Estimation – Estimate the cost of the upgrade and calculate the ROI for the investment
- Customer Management – Clearly identify the customers that are impacted by the upgrade and keep customers informed of the network upgrade process
- Survey, Design, and Construction – The most critical and complex of all the activities; requires surveying both inside and outside plant, creation of design, coordination with contractors, and construction of the Deep Fiber nodes
- Project Management – Project execution can be hampered by lack of end-to-end project visibility and tracking:
- Project management information can be isolated and scattered across multiple applications
- It’s often difficult to discern the owner of individual projects or tasks
- It can be difficult to compare and maintain schedules vs. actual timing of activities
- It’s difficult to understand the potential impact any delays will have on project timelines
- Project documentation is difficult to obtain and communicate
- Cut-Over and Post-Deployment – Coordinate with customers to schedule a cut-over and ensure all the customer services are migrated to the new network; monitor the network performance of pre- and post-deployment.
Fiber Deep will require scalable solutions due to the nationwide impact of projects. Lessons learned and processes implemented for a rollout in one market must be able to be applied to other subsequent markets. A 360-degree view of project operations, service requests, and key performance indicators (KPIs) is required.
Flexible management oversight
Initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing Fiber Deep projects will be crucial for cable operators. The devil, however, is in the details. Flexible project management platforms designed specifically for the service provider market—and ones that sync with existing BSS/OSS systems—can help narrow project focus and assist cable operators in achieving their desired goals within specific time and cost parameters.
The biggest culprit for project delays is ownership (or lack thereof)—who’s responsible for keeping things on track and how do the individual timelines for various pieces of the project all come together to avoid costly delays? When one part of a project is in jeopardy time-wise, how does that impact the other parts? Key requirements for management solutions should include:
- A centralized database of project management workflows and Fiber Deep data
- Standardized processes for enhanced internal and cross-team collaboration, and increased transparency
- The ability to track projects from start to finish
- An increased ability to manage risk and budgets
- Minimizing the impacts to customer services on day of cut
- Tools that make it easier to compare and maintain scheduled vs. actual completion of activities
Once challenges are solved in terms of managing network rollout projects, cable operators also need flexible BSS/OSS systems that can handle the breadth of new services that Fiber Deep projects can offer. Components such as a flexible product catalog, advanced tools for service orchestration, ordering and fulfillment systems, and others will be critical to delivering an enhanced quality of experience for users.
Cable operators recognize they have an advantage in terms of Fiber Deep rollouts—their HFC networks already deliver an incredible amount of bandwidth to customers. In moving fiber closer to the customer, they are positioning themselves to deliver a wealth of advanced services enabled by this bandwidth goldmine. To achieve this, infrastructure, network, and back office capabilities all need to be working in sync to deliver the ultimate quality of experience for their customers.
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