By Ken Mathers, Senior Utilities Consultant, Hexagon’s Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division
Fibre optic networks are rapidly expanding. This change is being driven by digital transformation, upscaled competition and increasing demands for service reliability.
While this expansion will serve the Asia Pacific telecom networks well, it is being stymied by network providers needing more real-time information and optimised connectivity.
Traditionally, telecom providers have relied on physical network inventory solutions (PNI), which focus on the business processes of building the physical network and account for the location of ducts, cables, trenches, poles, cabinets and other assets. However, these processes can be far better guaranteed through the use of next-generation geographic information systems (GIS).
Advanced GIS can fully facilitate the necessary minute details of a network and the relationships needed to ensure its physical elements are modelled and recorded at the circuit and service-level. For example, it can model physical circuits passing through complex linear paths through tubes, ducts, manholes and cabinets via port-based devices such as patch panels, splitters and splices.
As fibre optic networks are here to stay, it is paramount that telecom network operators advance their GIS technology accordingly and embrace this new era of network connectivity. Otherwise, there will be risk and cost to the Asia Pacific telecom infrastructure.
A surge in data
In the information era, the world now truly runs on data and our consumption of it has exploded. While previous typical data usage may have been just sending an email or placing a call, residential consumers now expect a high-speed internet service for multiple users across the entire household – a trend that has only increased since the dramatic shift to working from home sparked by COVID-19 restrictions.
The network channels must now uphold the demand for the high-quality streaming of television shows, multiple zoom calls, and video games being played over several devices. This comes at a cost to our business and critical services, which also rely on these channels and are inhibited from best performance through demands made on the network
To facilitate this data demand, fibre optic networks are expanding at pace and have become an integral part of high-speed broadband communications networks required for smart grid, fibre to the home (FTTH), and intelligent information management systems.
The emergence of 5G and IoT
While improving high-speed and low-latency networks, 5G is also predicted to increase the pace of next-generation networking solutions. This will underly digital transformation; bringing the likes of autonomous driving, augmented reality, the digitalisation of infrastructure, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Smart Cities to society.
However, implementing 5G is very costly and requires a revamp of the existing network infrastructure. This will require knowledge sharing, field activities management, and control of infrastructural costs. Operators will further require holistic collaboration between the field and back office with a wider availability of analytical tools for real-time activity insights.
Adding to demands on the network is the continual rise of IoT, which will further complicate data and connectivity needs as more devices are introduced to the network. In the realm of utilities, for example, there will be a demand for better data interoperability between smart devices and power providers. Fibre optic networks will act as a framework to these increased demands, allowing organisations to improve data and performance across the smart grid.
Putting fibre optics networks in place
Implementing fibre optic networks is not a simple task. They are hugely complex to develop and have to be designed precisely to minimise cost overruns and follow the overall strategic principles of the provider. Exacerbating this issue is the fact that many providers develop their network designs internally and have external engineering companies managing the more detailed designs and overall implementation. Therefore, the task ends up decentralised, and providers often rely on manual tools like spreadsheets, which leads to errors and is very time-consuming.
Digital solutions can help encourage more centralised design and implementation processes, but there is often also a stark lack of real-time information surrounding the necessary integrations and connectivity. To ensure optimised fibre optic implementation, network providers should install a digital model that can provide accurate, real-time data across their organisation.
This is where advanced GIS technology comes in, as it can give visibility into and optimise network engineering processes across the company. The technology provides much-needed location-based information and tools for the complete lifecycle of civil infrastructure and fibre optic management. This spans from design and construction to maintenance and operations, both in the back office and out in the field.
How advanced GIS can help
Advanced GIS technologies can deliver a further raft of benefits to implementing a fibre optic network. First, they model asset details and relationships to support most functions by filtering and rendering information in multiple different ways, on-the-go. For example, as text, maps, schematics, or diagrams. This provides each operator the appropriate level of detail in the correct way for their task.
Vitally, advanced GIS can also keep large projects within budget, delivering a better ROI through coordinating engineering capabilities with other business systems. This provides streamlined workflows and valuable insights, such as comparing alternative design proposals from technical and financial perspectives. The technology also improves processes, as lower data latency and universal access allows advanced GIS solutions to support time-sensitive use cases, resulting in faster operations, greater efficiency, and enhanced capabilities.
Lastly, advanced GIS reduces fibre optic financial risks through accurately assessing the high-level cost of proposed plans. This then enables telecoms providers to design and assess alternative proposals for buildout, including the building of distribution points, service areas, and deployment methods.
For example, when building the network, there is a huge cost of materials and labour. But as soon as the physical network is built, there is a different focus on provisioning new customers with the least amount of effort in order to profit from connecting customers to the network and managing existing customer connections. This requires details such as duct capacity to hold new cables,
predefined tube paths from cabinets to customer premises and the ability to identify spare ports for connecting the circuits, additional capacity at FATs to provide overhead service and more. The capture of the multiple level linear networks and ability to automate the provisioning process makes the difference between profit or loss for the network owners.
With fibre optic networks set to be a key component of the national telecom infrastructure, it is vital that their implementation is done correctly. Advanced GIS technology can ensure that, as these networks are developed, it will not come at a cost to the companies creating, and more importantly maintaining them over time.
This sponsored editorial is brought to you by Hexagon. For more information, visit www.hexagon.com.