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1 The Impact of Automated Fiber Management on FTTH Deployment and Operations A new technology, automated fiber management, simplifies the deployment of fiber to the home, yielding potentially great savings in capital and operating expenditures. By Sandy Roskes FiberZone Competition for consumer voice, video and data services the triple play has sparked a massive build-out of high-speed access services worldwide. Until recently, traditional telecom providers and cable operators have largely favored leveraging their installed base of copper by investing in xdsl and hybrid fiber/coax networks. Increasingly, however, these operators, along with a growing number of municipalities, have recognized that only the virtually unlimited bandwidth of fiber will provide a future-proof network to serve all consumer needs. Consequently, fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks have gone mainstream and are being deployed in volume around the world. A successful FTTH business model depends on carriers ability to manage costs, typically measured as cost per home passed and cost per home connected. Much attention has been paid in recent years to the capital expense required to deploy FTTH. However, the explosion in FTTH deployments over the last few years has facilitated a steep decline in optics costs, and carriers are now beginning to find that their ability to serve customers to provision, manage and troubleshoot live connections is limited not by capital expense but by operating expense. Up to 40 percent of the cost of a typical FTTH deployment is associated with the labor required to deploy and provision the outside plant. With automated fiber management, service providers can minimize network outages and restore service more quickly when they occur. This burden will increase substantially as deployments go from the millions to tens of millions. With capital expense decreasing and operating expense increasing, the only effective way to manage FTTH costs is to minimize labor requirements. Specifically, it is imperative to minimize the need for technicians to be deployed into the field to manually provision, test, maintain and troubleshoot the network. One way to reduce truck rolls and technician labor is by using Automated Fiber Management (AFM), a class of fiber switching, connectivity and management solutions. With AFM, physical fiber connections are made within a controlled system, and can be performed remotely by network operations staff. In FTTH networks, AFM enables the service provider to remotely configure connections without risky manual patching and without exposing live connections to human error. Remote access to the physical layer also enables network characterization testing, troubleshooting, and fault work-around to be performed from the network operations center (NOC). Among the many benefits AFM provides for network operators are: Faster time to revenue Reduced provisioning times Increased customer satisfaction Fewer truck rolls, leading to direct labor savings Remote testing and troubleshooting Sharing of centrally located test equipment About the Author Sandy Roskes is vice president of marketing and business development for FiberZone, a supplier of automated fiber management technology. He is also on the executive committee of the Advanced Fiber Connectivity and Switching Forum, an industry organization that promotes the use of automated fiber management. Sandy can be reached at 46 BROADBAND PROPERTIES May/June 2009

2 Figure 1: Automated fiber management equipment is located at the critical connection points of the FTTH network. Minimized downtime and fewer outages Efficient use of capex and central office space Cost-effective open network access Accurate record keeping. Network Uptime and Quality of Service Network uptime is a key operating parameter for FTTH operators. Specifically, carriers attempt to minimize the frequency of network outages and the time required to restore service. AFM s position at the critical connection points of the FTTH network (depicted in Figure 1) allows it to improve quality of service by offering a number of critical capabilities: Remote troubleshooting of problem fibers Remote fiber characterization during fiber installation Monitoring of service degradation over time Rapid feeder fiber identification Cost-effective 1:N redundancy Maintenance of accurate connectivity records. In today s FTTH networks, the network operator generally has no ability to anticipate faults; the alert system is typically a call from an angry customer. When a network outage occurs, highly skilled technicians must be sent urgently into the field and must work with technicians in the central office (CO) to manually locate the fault and troubleshoot the problem. This can cause long delays before service is restored. With AFM, the network operations center can remotely connect an FTTH test set in the central office, enabling technicians to observe network degradation even before outages occur, thereby anticipating and potentially addressing the underlying problem before service is disrupted. They can test FTTH facilities from the NOC, enabling them to troubleshoot before sending any technicians into the field. Expensive test equipment can be centrally located, readily available and shared over multiple AFM units. When technicians at the NOC detect signal degradation, via either dedicated test signals or FTTH equipment, they can track it in order to assess degradation over time. They can also perform additional investigations in order to troubleshoot and address the problem before an outage occurs, and long before customers are negatively affected. AFM can therefore save many hours of network downtime and help providers more effectively honor service level agreements. When an outage does occur, AFM can be used to perform remote troubleshooting for example, by connecting the affected fiber remotely to an optical time domain reflectometer to quickly locate the fault. Technicians can then be efficiently dispatched directly to the location of the problem fiber. During maintenance and repair operations, AFM can be used to rapidly identify problem fibers. With feeder fiber counts running into the hundreds, it can be a challenge today for technicians to identify the correct fiber in a manhole or street cabinet. The problem is exacer- 1 Minute Fiber Drop Free Video See Below May/June BROADBAND PROPERTIES 47

3 bated by record-keeping errors, a common problem with manually recorded inventory. Expensive technician time is consumed in carefully identifying fibers in the field so as to avoid disconnecting the wrong fiber and interrupting service to live subscribers. But with AFM deployed in the central office, the target fiber connectivity record is properly documented and accurately maintained by the AFM database. Any fiber record can be easily consulted for an up-to-theminute status update. New fibers being installed can be connected to a visible light source in the central office. A technician arriving at the manhole or street cabinet where the fibers are to be terminated then instructs the NOC to connect the visible light source to a given target fiber, enabling the field technician to immediately identify the fiber. Cycling through this process allows the technician to complete the task quickly and accurately. The AFM may also be used to connect remote test equipment in order to characterize each newly installed fiber. AFM can also provide cost-effective redundancy capabilities in FTTH deployments. Because of the shared nature of passive optical networks (PONs), the loss of a single video or optical line terminal (OLT) card in the central office can disrupt service to dozens of customers. However, with carriers under pressure to minimize FTTH capital expenditures, it is not realistic to provide 1:1 redundancy for each of the line cards. As Figure 1 shows, an AFM-enabled PON can provide 1:N redundancy, with a single spare OLT and video line card Figure 2: Without automated fiber management, provisioning a new fiber requires stationing technicians at both the splitter and the customer premises. Figure 3: With automated fiber management, preprovisioning testing can be performed from the central office. serving as a backup for all of the PONs. When a line card is lost, the affected PON is automatically and remotely connected to the spare card. Service can be restored immediately and cost-effectively, without requiring a high-urgency truck roll. A technician can replace the problematic line card on a regular maintenance schedule. Pre-provisioning testing can be done with fewer staff in the field. And the number of OLT cards can be reduced by as much as two-thirds. Labor Savings Through Automated Testing In today s distributed PON deployments, two technicians must typically be dispatched to provision each new subscriber. One technician installs a fiber from the drop location to the customer premises and deploys the optical network terminal (ONT) in the home. A second technician stationed at the splitter connects the distribution fiber and performs line testing operations with the technician at the customer premises. (See Figure 2.) In an AFM-enabled PON, by contrast, automated fiber management systems are deployed in the central office and in controlled-environment splitter locations (see Figure 3), where they are connected or spliced to the splitters and subscriber-side fibers. When a new customer is provisioned, one technician travels to the field to connect the drop cable to the customer premises and install the customer-premises equipment. Technicians based at the central office or network operations center connect the distribution fiber to the splitter and perform the CO-side testing automatically and remotely. Their time can be amortized across a much larger set of customers than that of field technicians at the splitter location in a non-afm scenario. To perform link characterization, the technician in the CO/NOC conducts tests and communicates directly with the single field technician at the ONT. If line characterization testing indicates a line performance problem, the CO/NOC technician immediately dispatches a field technician to the location of the fault. In most cases, however, the line condition is positively verified, 48 BROADBAND PROPERTIES May/June 2009

4 and the technician in the CO/NOC remotely disconnects the test equipment from the first feeder fiber, connects it to a different fiber and immediately conducts preprovisioning test operations with a different field technician provisioning a subscriber on another fiber. Meanwhile, the single field technician completes the new customer provisioning operations and moves to the next new subscriber location. Network operators can also use AFM to enable zero-touch provisioning, in which they can connect new subscribers without sending even a single technician into the field. In this scenario, they preconnect drop cables to the customer location during fiber installation. When a new end user is ready to be provisioned, a CO/NOC-based technician remotely connects the splitter to the appropriate drop cable. The operator ships the ONT to the subscriber for self-installation, and the network auto-discovers the ONT as soon as it is connected to the network. Zero-touch provisioning may save substantial costs in high-density scenarios such as MDUs, where entry rights are often difficult to obtain from landlords. Capex Savings With Efficient PON Population The capital expense of active equipment accounts for about one-third of FTTH deployment costs. The primary benefit of PON s shared network architecture is that it enables operators to spread expensive central office costs across several dozen homes. In addition, some incremental costs, such as for the customerside ONT device, can be deferred until subscribers are signed up. The objective of this architecture is to minimize the initial cost of the network. However, the rigid structure of today s PON architectures actually imposes one particularly burdensome first cost: As soon as a single subscriber on a given PON is turned up, an expensive OLT line card must be provisioned, and this expense will only be amortized across the actual users of the PON. If a 32-subscriber PON achieves 100 percent penetration, the OLT card is shared across 32 users. However, experience has shown a more typical penetration rate of around 33 percent in overbuild environments, where competition exists for subscribers. In this case, the OLT card is effectively three times more expensive on a per-home-connected basis, which is more relevant to the operator than commonly quoted per-home-passed costs. Some carriers have responded to inefficient PON use by concentrating splitters in the central office, as shown in Figure 4. In this architecture, end users can be connected to one of many PON splitters colocated in the CO. When new subscribers sign up for service, a patch cord is connected to a splitter with an Figure 4: Concentrating splitters in the central office allows operators to populate PONs efficiently but crowds many fibers into a small space. Figure 5: Automated fiber management allows efficient PON population without placing all of the splitters in the central office. available port. In this manner, splitters can be populated fully before additional OLTs must be deployed. But while concentrating the splitters solves the problem of populating the PON efficiently, it raises other concerns, such as dramatically increasing the number of fiber ports and patch panels in the CO. Technicians spend a great deal of time identifying the correct fiber, conducting preprovisioning tests and running patch cords all of which drive up opex. An alternative approach to populating PONs efficiently is to implement AFM with a flexible splitter architecture, integrating the splitters into asymmetric AFM systems serving multiple PONs. For example, Figure 5 shows an asymmetric AFM system located in a central office and serving multiple 32-subscriber PONs. After the carrier deploys the network and signs the first subscriber, it provisions an expensive OLT line card in the CO on one of the feeder fibers connected to the feeder AFM system. The network manager connects the new customer s distribution fiber to the appropriate splitter via the asymmetric AFM, automatically and remotely. A second subscriber signing up from any of the homes connected to the asymmetric AFM system can be provisioned on the same OLT line card. In fact, the first 32 new subscribers connected to the AFM system can all be connected to the first OLT card. Therefore, the carrier can fully populate each PON before investing in an additional line card. Churn can be managed with these same OLT line cards, with cancelled subscribers moved remotely from the lit feeder fibers and new subscribers moved onto them. Load balancing operations May/June BROADBAND PROPERTIES 49

5 Game-Changing FTTH Technology Figure 6: With automated fiber management, subscribers on an open access network can easily switch providers. can also be performed to spread highuse subscribers efficiently across PONs, thereby delaying the need to upgrade to a higher-bandwidth technology. And when the time comes to upgrade to a higher-bandwidth technology, AFM can assist in grooming like users on PONs according to their bandwidth requirements, to make the transition easier. It is important to note that such an AFM-enabled PON architecture allows carriers not just to defer OLT costs but to dramatically decrease capex altogether. Based on a 33 percent penetration rate, when the mega-pon reaches maturity, only one-third as many OLT cards will have been required as would have been required using an inflexible splitter architecture. Open Access Networks Some municipalities, utilities and other publicly financed consortia design their FTTH networks as an open infrastructure over which multiple providers can deliver a diverse array of services. Typically, these wholesale networks are deployed in point-to-point architectures, facilitating competition by enabling the network operator to physically connect the end user to the service provider of his or her choice. However, using manual distribution frames to provide physical connectivity to competitive service providers requires laborious and error-prone manual patching and re-patching of end user ports. To be cost-effective, the network operator must be able to control the infrastructure end to end, without sending technicians to the field for manual connectivity operations. AFM enables the network operator to connect customers to any service 50 provider colocated in the service POP without any manual intervention, as shown in Figure 6. When an end user chooses to switch to a different service provider, the end-user port can be physically switched, remotely, to the new service provider. Requirements of AFM for FTTH Applications As we have seen, automated fiber management (AFM) can offer powerful operational benefits to FTTH deployments. But in order to deliver these benefits, AFM solutions must comply with several strict requirements. First, the insertion loss must be very low. The optical power budget of today s PON network is very tight. PONs are typically designed with total power budget of between 25 to 30 db. Losses from splitters run around 16 db, from WDM couplers 1 db or more, fiber loss up to 5 db, and analog video around 4 db. Allowing for a minimum margin, there is very little loss available for connectivity and splices, typically on the order of 1 db or less. Uptime is also critical. FTTH networks are typically deployed to customers without redundant paths. Any outage in the network means angry customers and lost revenue. Since AFM is deployed in place of manual connectivity products, it is imperative that it maintain the attributes and reliability of a manual patch panel, and not introduce an additional point of failure. Specifically, connectivity cannot be dependent on power or any active components AFM must be able to maintain connections in all scenarios. The latching mechanism that maintains connections and ensures the transmission of data without power or active components must also protect customer connections during any AFM servicing process. Finally, AFM should be transparent to bit rate and transmission protocol. AFM systems that meet these requirements can enable FTTH operators to minimize labor requirements, eliminate database mismatches resulting from human error, optimize capex and facilitate testing and maintenance. AFM significantly offsets other capital expense and reduces operating expense, delivering a return on investment in less than two years and improving the FTTH business case. BBP Figure 7: AFM provides remote control from the Network Operations Center. BROADBAND PROPERTIES ties.com May/June 2009

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