As cable service providers continue their march to deliver all-IP services such as IP video and 4K video, the bandwidth usage of last-mile networks continues to grow. These next-gen services put significant strain on the access networks that are already being taxed by traffic from on-demand services and growth in general Internet usage.
To meet this skyrocketing demand and to better compete with other fiber-based or over-the-top (OTT) service providers, cable operators are migrating their access Hybrid Fiber Coax (HFC) network to a Distributed Access Architecture (DAA). Fiber Deep is a stepping stone to the DAA, which is followed by other technology upgrades like Ethernet Passive Optical Network (EPON), Fiber to the X (FTTX), and 5G wireless. Millions of customers in the US will soon have access to all IP services, increased bandwidth and better QoS over these networks.
Why is Fiber Deep so compelling from a technology perspective? By driving the fiber deeper, the signals’ optical-to-electrical conversion is pushed closer to homes and businesses, which increases potential bandwidth. When the length of the coaxial cable is shortened, the size of the node service area is reduced, allowing cable operators to reduce operational expenses such as maintenance, power and troubleshooting costs. It also reduces or eliminates the need for RF amplifiers.
But there’s also a significant competitive benefit for cable operators to deploy Fiber Deep: with more bandwidth in their arsenal, they have the ability to offer a larger array of new services that require higher bandwidth to compete with both existing service providers and oncoming OTT providers. 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.
However strategic Fiber Deep rollouts may be, there are several operational challenges that could impact rollout:
OSS/BSS capabilities are not readily available. These capabilities cannot support the network upgrade and many of the activities are manual. Functions such as planning, estimation, customer management, survey, design and construction, cut-over and post-deployment strategy all rely heavily on strong OSS/BSS capabilities. Project management, in particular, can be hindered by lack of end-to-end project visibility and tracking. Project management information can also be scattered across multiple locations while owners of individual tasks can be difficult to identify.
Processes, tools and communications methods vary by department. A lack of standard processes across different teams can cause delays and are time-consuming to reconcile.
There is potential for subscriber downtime. Because Fiber Deep is a brownfield deployment, node migrations could impact customer services. Limiting downtime requires careful planning.
Teams are large, and cross departments. A typical Fiber Deep project requires approximately 250 people to manage, coordinate and collaborate within teams and across functions.
Fiber Deep projects will eventually be regionwide or nationwide undertakings for many cable operators, and will require solutions that scale. Lessons that are learned and processes that are implemented in one market must be applicable to subsequent markets. To achieve this, cable operators require a 360-degree view of project operations, service requests, and key performance indicators (KPIs). The ability to initiate, plan, execute, control and close Fiber Deep projects is crucial.
However, as with all projects of this scale, the devil is in the details. Cable operators need access to flexible project management platforms designed specifically for this market—and ones that sync with existing BSS/OSS systems. Such systems can help cable operators adhere to the scope of the project and meet specific goals regarding deadlines and cost.
For many projects, lack of ownership is the biggest cause of project delays. Understanding roles and responsibilities is critical in adhering to project schedule, as is understanding how individual timelines for various pieces of the project all mesh to avoid expensive delays. It’s important to understand the impact each piece of the project has on others. There are several key requirements for project management solutions that serve Fiber Deep, including:
A centralized database that includes all project management workflows for Fiber Deep data
A set of standardized processes that allow for enhanced collaboration and transparency, both internally and across teams
The ability to track projects end-to-end
An increased ability to manage risk, budgets and deadlines
The ability to minimize impact to subscribers (and subsequently customer service) when service is cut over
A set of tools that allow cable operators to compare and maintain both scheduled and actual activity timelines to adjust for future rollouts
Managing network rollout projects is just the first step. Once these challenges are solved, cable operators also need flexible OSS/BSS systems that can adjust to the wide range of services they now have the ability to offer. Key features for these systems include a dynamic product catalog, advanced service orchestration tools and ordering and fulfillment systems.
Cable operators already deliver an incredible amount of bandwidth to customers, though Fiber Deep rollouts can enhance their offerings even more. By moving fiber closer to the subscriber, they can now deliver a wealth of new services that this bandwidth enables. Execution is everything—and to truly compete, infrastructure, network and back office capabilities each need to come together and operate like a well-oiled machine to deliver the services their customers are demanding.