What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Municipal Fiber Networks?
Municipal fiber networks have both advantages and disadvantages.
On one hand, municipal networks are an effective solution for delivering high-speed public broadband services in areas with limited ISP coverage. On the other hand, building and managing a fiber network independently can be very challenging.
As an operator, you need a balanced perspective on municipal networks so that you can best serve your government clients.
The Advantages of Municipal Fiber Networks
One of the main reasons why communities invest in municipal networks is that they “level the playing field” for subscribers.
Through municipal networks, communities create competitive marketplaces in which consumers have a choice over who provides their broadband services. With the right network design, local governments can encourage participation from multiple service providers, thereby incentivizing them to innovate and price fairly.
As a result, residents often have access to high-speed internet at a lower cost than they would otherwise. In many communities with publicly available internet, the “digital divide” is less prominent as households have equitable access to quality broadband.
Municipal networks also help promote community-wide economic development. With widespread access to fast internet, businesses are able to participate in the global economy and leverage next-generation technologies much more easily.
Another major benefit of municipal networks is that local governments can closely monitor the services provided by participating ISPs. Consequently, these ISPs can be held accountable to certain performance standards and ensure that community members get the services they deserve.
The Disadvantages of Municipal Fiber Networks
On the downside, municipal networks can be very complex to manage. In smaller communities, it can be hard to find personnel with expertise in taking big fiber development projects from start to finish.
This is especially true for municipal networks that lease capacity to several ISPs simultaneously. The more stakeholders there are, the more challenging the network is to maintain for all who are involved.
In addition, the upfront and ongoing costs of deploying a municipal network can be significant. Taxpayer dollars are at stake, which can be scary in communities with limited experience running profitable fiber networks. Local governments need to be prepared for extended periods of time with little cash flow and carefully project their financials over the long term.
Without the right incentives in place, internet service providers may also be hesitant to participate in open access networks. If population density is too low, competition is too intense, or wholesale pricing for cable capacity is too high, ISPs won’t see the value in providing services over municipal networks. Close collaboration is necessary to ensure that everyone can benefit from a municipal network launch.
Because local governments oversee municipal networks, some residents and businesses carry privacy concerns. There is a degree of monitoring that must exist in order for communities to evaluate whether or not their networks are fulfilling their original purposes. This public oversight may be too much of a deterrent in certain parts of the country.
What You Need to Know Before Deploying Your FTTH Network
So you’ve chosen a design for your FTTH network. And you’ve evaluated it to ensure that it’s a good investment for you and your potential subscribers.
Now, it’s time to prep for deployment.
Here are a few other factors to consider before you begin rolling out cable:
Is your existing labor force skilled enough to build your proposed network?
When it comes to network deployment, you can either choose to manage the project in-house or go with a third-party developer. You typically pay a premium to go the outsourcing route. However, if your labor force isn’t well equipped to deploy the specific architecture you need, you risk investing significant time and capital on a network that won’t perform well.
Provide high-quality training and education for your critical personnel or bring in a fiber developer who specializes in building your particular type of architecture.
What fiber infrastructure already exists in the market?
Before spending any capital on network components, cables, and installation fees, see if there is any existing infrastructure in place that you can leverage. This could help you save labor and material costs, in addition to speeding up your time to deployment.
You must ensure that your hardware can integrate seamlessly with what already exists if you need to fill in gaps within the existing infrastructure. Otherwise, you could end up spending more to fix faulty connections and troubleshoot other issues.
What additional FTTH network developments do you have in process?
If you are planning to deploy several FTTH networks simultaneously, think about how you can leverage economies of scale across your different projects. Purchase essential fiber network components and cables in bulk and follow the same design standards from project-to-project.
This way, it’s much easier to manage multiple builds at once while also reducing your total implementation costs. If possible, streamline your training efforts and educate network technicians in the same way so that all developments follow the same design processes.
Can your network easily be integrated into a broader network?
We also touch on this particular point in our design evaluation article as it is a very important consideration for fiber operators. In the future, another FTTH network may want to purchase and absorb your existing network. Your network is more valuable if it can be easily integrated into someone else’s architecture.
You may also reach a point where you want to purchase someone else’s fiber network. Perform a thorough evaluation of what it would really cost to combine your network with someone else’s infrastructure. As FTTH deployments continue to increase nationwide and competition grows in individual markets, this is a critical consideration to keep in the back of your mind.
What are the government regulations around FTTH?
Before deploying your FTTH network, you also need to make sure you understand every government regulation in the local market that could impact your project. You should have a thorough understanding of the documents, permits, and easements you need before you break any ground.
Rules can differ drastically across municipalities and countries. For example, in some regions, you may need a “Certificate of Public Convenience.” Other areas may enforce “Dig Once” policies, preventing network developers from uprooting the same ground for incremental installations. “Pole Attachment Agreements” may be required for any FTTH projects involving aerial fiber use.
On top of documentation requirements, your field techs and designers should also understand all local fiber optic standards and codes. These details can impact which materials you are able to use. Stateside, cabling standards are set by Telcordia or TIA. Internationally, standards may be instituted by ITU or ISO/IEC depending on where you are.
You may also need sign-offs from local professional engineers, architects, and organizations for certain aspects of your development. Fiber installations in public areas may require supervision from local authorities in the form of traffic management or protection.
Turning Over Every Stone
FTTH network development is very exciting. However, you need to make sure you have considered every deployment variable, from existing infrastructure to local government regulations, before getting started. Turn over every stone now and mitigate future risk that could throw off your project.
Saving A Fiber Optic Cable Before It Breaks
There are myriad of stories where fiber optic cables are broken and resources are marshalled to find the location of the break and fix the fiber. In the United States over a 9 month period monitoring a Google Alerts feed there were over 120 reported fiber optic cable breaks. Since most breaks never get reported it can be assumed that this is only a small fraction.
I’ve written about the importance of documenting the fiber optic network in order to make it faster to repair broken fibers (Where's The Fault: My Introduction to "WTF"). But, what if a prospective break could be found before a fracture actually occurred? If a fiber in distress can be discovered before damage is done resources and reputation can be saved. That was the case with a Singapore based communication service provider.
This service provider knows the importance of monitoring the network, especially with all of the construction in Singapore and surrounding areas where their network exists. They had installed the Fiber Guardian from Exfo (www.exfo.com) to help ensure the security of their network. The Fiber Guardian inserts light into the fiber to actively monitor it using OTDR technology. The results of the active monitoring are compared to a baseline OTDR trace. If there are differences between what is found and what is expected the Fiber Guardian will go into alarm and send email and text messages to specified service technicians. What helps make the Fiber Guardian so valuable is that it is linked to a street map with the monitored fiber optic cables superimposed. This isn’t a typical map. It is housed within a special software application called Fiber Test InSight (www.ospinsight.com) that is designed to use the length to the fault contained within the Fiber Guardian alarm and find the location on a map. Thus, not only are technicians notified that there is a problem, they are directed to where the problem is.
Late last year technicians for this Singapore based service provider received email and SMS indicating there was degradation in their network. They quickly went to the location they were directed to by Fiber Test Insight and Fiber Guardian. Once there, they found a massive construction project. They noticed that the conduit their cables were in had a sharp bend that was compromising their fiber optic cable. They showed this to the on-site project manager who subsequently was able to secure the damaged pipe. Finding this cable probably prevented a major outage and saved a tremendous amount of resources in time and repair.
Mark this up to another example of the importance of proactively preparing for the inevitable by managing the fiber optic network. Interesting side note, this one incident justified the cost for their fiber monitoring solution.
News for Friday 11 September, 2020