Planning for Universal Broadband Solving for x

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1 Planning for Universal Broadband Solving for x Kermit L. Ross President, NDDI Broadband Is the New Universal For most of the last century, telephone companies built networks designed for voice services, and had no direct competition. Today, we live in a fiercely competitive global market where consumers and businesses can purchase a broad range of telecommunications services: basic voice, Internet access, HDTV, streaming video, and online gaming, from telcos, cable companies, wireless companies and others. A telecom network that supports robust, universally available broadband services is a critical component of a telco s, and a country s, standing and competitiveness in this global marketplace. In March, 2010 the FCC published a National Broadband Plan to guide the U.S. toward universal broadband. The Plan is aligned with market, public policy and regulatory forces to encourage, and, in some cases, to mandate carriers to modernize their networks in order to achieve universal broadband. And, most paths to universal broadband will be paved with fiber. Solving for x Fiber-to-the-x (FTTx) is a generic term for a local network architecture where optical fiber replaces all or part of the traditional copper plant. The fiber starts at the central office (CO) and stops at x, at a residence or business or at some remote point in the outside plant. Some telcos are building fiber-to-the-home (FTTh) networks: fiber all the way to the customers, bypassing and, eventually, displacing the copper plant. Other carriers are employing fiber-to-thenode (FTTn) strategies. The idea of FTTn is to deploy fiber-fed DSLAMs at remote sites which are close to customers, and to use DSLs on the existing copper for the final links to customers. A FTTn strategy avoids the cost of building a new fiber link to every home and business. But, careful planning is required to locate the DSLAMs so as to be able reach every customer with an acceptable data rate. U.S. telcos and other carriers will, using various combinations of FTTh and FTTn, plan, engineer and build about 20 million new broadband connections in the period. They will upgrade

2 many of the 87 million existing broadband connections to higher speeds in the same period. This upgrade will require massive capital expenditures for fiber cable, apparatus and electronics equipment. To spend this money wisely, the carriers must solve the FTTx equation for x. They must carefully plan where the new fiber cables will go and what equipment will be installed at the remote sites marked by x. Planning FTTx Deployments Until recently, a network planner had few tools beyond maps and a calculator to make these critical decisions. But now, a new breed of software tool, developed specifically for planning FTTx projects, is available. NDDI s NOCPlan XS is a FTTx planning and decision support system which selects the optimal locations for optical splitters and/or remote MSANS/DSLAMs, thereby minimizing fiber and equipment costs. The software reuses existing network infrastructure, wherever possible, to minimize costs. NOCPlan XS aims to future proof the new network, planning it for current and future demands based on customer type, bandwidth, and penetration over a forecast interval. In the POTS era, planning was mostly about building copper cables to provide voice services to residential and business customers. Planning got a little more complicated when digital loop carriers were introduced in the 1980 s, but it still amounted to making sure that there were enough line cards and copper pairs to provide one, or maybe two, voice lines to anybody who wanted voice service, virtually everybody. In the Internet Age, planning FTTx networks means figuring out where to place new fiber cables. It means specifying the equipment at the ends of the fiber cables in order to offer a broadband connection to anybody who wants one. And, it means offering your broadband connections before your customers tire of waiting and take their broadband business to one of your competitors. So, planners must get it right the first time; there s no time or money to do it over. And, shortening the planning, design and construction timeline is critical to the success of any FTTx project. Harnessing Technology and Software The firmest foundation for a good plan is comprehensive and accurate data about where people and places are in relation to the current and planned network that serves them. The widespread use of GIS technology makes it possible for carriers to use geographic and demographic data from publically available sources as the basis for planning for universal broadband. With the right software tools, network planners can map households, businesses, anchor institutions and towers onto the geography that the carrier serves. Many carriers have invested in GIS technology and tools to convert their maps and records to digital formats. Software that uses GIS information to help engineer network additions is available from several vendors. Software tools that manage construction projects and update plant records are

3 also available. These software systems assume that network planners have already solved for x, decided what architecture and technology will be used and where the fiber cables and network nodes will be located. The basic unit of telco geography is the wire center. The central element of a wire center is a central office (CO). Cables radiate from the CO, usually along streets and roads, to reach residential and business customers. In recent years, telcos have replaced some feeder cables with fiber and digital loop carriers. The planner must take this existing network into account and reuse as much it as possible. FTTx planning software must do the same. The first step toward planning FTTx in a wire center is to assemble and load a project that maps the wire center s geography in GIS terms. Then, the demand points : households, businesses, anchor institutions and towers, are identified and a demand layer is placed on the wire center map. Demand data is derived from several publically-available databases, not just the telco s records. So, it represents all the potential broadband demand within the wire center, whether currently served by the telco or not. A typical project, based on a typical telco wire center, is shown in Figure 1. Figure 1: Example Wire Center and Demand Points The GIS and demand data is supplied to the planner in a prepackaged project folder. He just opens the project folder and starts planning the FTTx project. The planning process consists of a series of pull-down menus, which guide the planner through a series of choices and inputs.

4 Figure 2: Planning Menus One of the first steps is to identify any existing plant that will be repurposed for the FTTx network. The project file already shows the streets and roads, which comprise the baseline constraint layer. The planner can identify existing fiber cables and nodes on the constraint layer to be reused and integrated into the FTTx project. Then, the planner selects the architecture; e.g. active, passive or point-to-point, and technology; e.g. GPON, EPON, FTTn, HFC, etc., to be used to connect the demand points to the CO. These choices define the connection model, a set of rules used by NOCPlan XS to plan the connections. The planner can choose a different connection model for some customers; e.g. point-to-point connections to anchor institutions and towers. Or, he can choose to serve part of the wire center with FTTh and the remainder with FTTn. The planner can also tailor the connection model to the telco s engineering design rules; e.g. specify the maximum length of FTTn copper loops. Once the planner has chosen the connection model and set the design rules, the software computes the optimum network to connect the demand points to the CO. For example, if the planner wants an FTTn network with maximum 5Kft copper loops, NOCPlan XS will define a set of geographic solutions for n that are within 5Kft of each demand point and that, wherever possible, coincide with the telco s existing infrastructure. Figure 3 is a diagram of the planned FTTn network.

5 Figure 3: FTTn Network with 5Kft Loops If the planner wants to consider an FTTh solution using GPON architecture for this wire center, he just selects the appropriate connection model. Figure 4 is a diagram of FTTh serving two outlying communities in the same wire center. Figure 4: FTTh Network with OLT at the CO Since each of the two outlying communities is currently served by a DLC, the planner can choose to replace the DLCs with remote OLTs. NOCPlan XS specifies splitter locations for the most costeffective locations, whether the OLT is in the CO or at a remote site.

6 Figure 5: FTTh Network with Remote OLTs Once the planner has decided on the architecture and connection model, NOCPlan XS will lay out the fiber cables needed to efficiently connect the remote DSLAMs or splitters to the central office. Anchor institutions, large business locations and towers can be, and often are, connected to the central office by direct fiber. Figure 6: New Fiber Feeder Cables With NOCPlan XS, a wire center can be planned for FTTx in just minutes, with just points and clicks, at a fraction of the time and cost of the old map and calculator method. Alternative connection

7 models can be quickly and easily modeled, and planners can choose the best one for the application. Costs can be rolled up for the entire project to allow comparisons on the basis of first cost or NPV. Take rates and revenues can be projected over the planning interval to allow comparisons of ROIs of alternative plans. One of the most important advantages of using NOCPlan XS is that comprehensive information and data about the FTTx project is always and immediately available. All levels of the telco s management know what planning decisions were made and the outcomes of the decisions. Figure 6: Maps, Drawings, Charts and Reports This information is available in a standard menu of drawings, schematics, charts and reports from which the planner can select what he needs. NOCPlan XS applies a consistent planning methodology across a carrier s geography and footprint for optimal results. Its inputs are GIS data, demand data, architecture, a connection model and a forecast. Its output is a comprehensive plan for routing and sizing fiber cables, and locating PON splitters and/or active nodes, in the form of maps, drawings and reports. The software generates a bill of materials, computes budgetary costs and compares alternative scenarios. It plans all fiber architectures: active, passive, etc., and all fiber access technologies: GPON, EPON, NGPON, DSLAM, MSAN, Active and Ethernet. Best of all, it substantially reduces the cost, effort, and time required to plan, engineer and build FTTx projects

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