Siddharth Mehta, General Manager, Cyient Communications

Is the copper versus fibre war over? This is a question that has often challenged telecom organisations when they plan and build up capacity to meet future demands. While the advantages of laying optical fibre cable networks are well understood and accepted, the need to “go completely fibre” is governed by several factors such as bandwidth requirements, population density and existing infrastruc- ture. The question becomes increasingly significant when we evaluate the present state of infrastructure where 10 per cent of cabling is dedicated to international long distance (ILD) and national long distance (NLD), 10 per cent to the distribution network, and 80 per cent is still in the subscriber loop (mainly copper).

While the ILD, NLD and metro net- works have been replaced by fibre, the question basically rounds up to the access networks – the last mile to be replaced by fibre. In fact, the key question is not why but when.

While there have been developments in cable technologies, where the band-width capabilities have increased signifi- cantly to meet deployment and demand needs, a gradual movement towards replacing copper with fibre is needed.

Even as the deployment is planned as per the chosen fibre-to-the-x (FTTx) topology, it is important that the end-to- end process of network engineering design is institutionalised and followed meticu- lously. It has been observed that the process of planning and design has not necessarily been given adequate impor- tance and, in turn, has resulted in a net higher cost of construction, and opera- tions and maintenance (O&M).

The following are the standard steps that encompass any FTTx deployment and assess the additional nuances that need to be considered:

  • The first step is desktop survey and analysis. This includes planning very high-level routes based on the land bases/maps, per- forming basic analytics and in effect creating the right inputs to be passed on to the next step – the field survey. This step is gaining a lot of importance as it helps in a top-down view and enables making later considerations easier.
  • The second step, field survey, involves moving from a manual activity to a semi-automated Based on the inputs from the first step, one can use mobile technologies, workforce man- agement technology and LIDAR (light detection and ranging) technology to bring in automation and integration.
  • In the third step, a high-level design is created using commercially available In this phase too, workflow, phys- ical network inventory (PNI), and cer- tain planning and design integrations are critical. Tools such as ICOMMSWorld by Cyient enable the provider to determine an end-to-end workflow, as well as help in the planning and design. There are also certain other alternatives available in the market.
  • In the fourth step, a low-level design is mapped at the most granular level – the demand point. This also provides inputs for the next step, which is construction. There are commercial solutions available that streamline this with the right amount of automation and integrations built in. Cyient’s InFiPlan solution is an However, it is critical that there is integration and automation in the plan- ning and design capability, workflow and workforce management, and PNI.
  • The fifth step is constr- New technologies such as horizontal direction- al drilling and micro trench- ing offer enhanced capabili- ties for precision and relia- bility of construction activi- ty. Better integration of these with the workflow, workforce, PNI, operation support sys- tem, mobile, and enterprise resource planning applications is important for an end-to-end implementation.
  • The sixth step is “as-built”, which vali- dates the construction, and any field changes and links are updated into the design and the Again, integration is the key here.
  • The seventh step is network and main- This is now emerging as the most critical step. With the advances in technology, the reliability of networks encompassing both active and passive elements is gaining importance amongst customers and clients. This step involves the use of key equipment such as fibre network analysers, GIS remote management systems, integration of network monitoring software, service assurance, service management, PNI, logical net- work inventory, mobile and workforce management systems. It is critical that events that are identified as logical potential faults are mapped to PNI and the O&M teams take proactive steps.

While all these steps are state of the art today, sometimes a variant of the above is adopted by organisations, based on their needs. It is important to partner with a solution provider that can help devise a strategy, implement the fibre roll-out and maintenance, and leverage their experi- ence to offer enhanced services in a more reliable and cost-effective manner.