Planning fibre rollouts to meet new Work from Home and 5G demands

26 October 2021 by Mike Dorland
How can we accelerate fibre rollout to meet new demands for remote working and 5G deployments? Effective telecoms inventory management is essential.

Demand for fibre has surged during the pandemic, but this simply adds to the need to meet 5G coverage demands. Meeting the challenge of delivering fibre in rural areas demands a new way of thinking about infrastructure and the incorporation of a host of new access routes into traditional planning and inventory systems.

Fibre coverage is essential for home workers – and for 5G networks

It’s clear that accelerating fibre rollout is essential for delivering true high-speed broadband to business and residential users. The good news is that rollout is accelerating – with fibre connections overtaking copper-based DSL broadband links at some point in 2020, according to figures from the OECD[1].

There are several reasons for this. First, the COVID crisis brought an instant change to the way in which people worked, shifting significant numbers of the global workforce to their homes. Working from Home (WFH) became the norm for many and is expected to be part of many people’s routines for some time to come.

Second, 5G rollout. Most licensed operators are obliged to deploy nationwide 5G coverage. Because of the (very specific) performance requirements of full 5G networks, cell sites need to be connected to transit and core networks via fibre. However, to deliver the promised performance of 5G (specifically, those services that require lower latency than has been possible with 4G), higher frequencies will need to be used – 3.4 GHz and above, for example[2].

5G SA is great – but denser coverage is required, which demands even more fibre

But, such signals cannot travel far, or penetrate barriers (such as walls, or even trees – which is why radio planners take leaf coverage into account). This means that a much higher density of cells is required to deliver the performance levels expected.

Applications that require low latency also mean changes to the edge network. That’s because the distance between the source of application demand (where the service is delivered) and the processing resources required to enable the application must be minimised. This, which will be available with the second phase of 5G, or so-called 5G Standalone (5G SA), will drive a surge of edge computing. Basically, processing will move from the core (where it largely happens today) to distributed data centres, closer to (and, in some cases, even associated with) the radio cells.

Edge computing drives yet more fibre

Such edge computing resources must also be connected to cells by fibre, so not only do we need fibre to connect cells to the transit and core networks, we also need to connect many of these cells to local cloud computing facilities.

That’s a lot to consider, but the bottom line is that fibre is now critical infrastructure, both for supporting remote workers, as well as for traditional household and business applications, and for building the infrastructure to support 5G networks.

Now, let’s add one last factor to this mix. The sudden growth of WFH also changed the dynamics of where fibre is required. With people working from more remote locations and some realising that this offered a new chance to establish a different kind of work-life balance, demand for fibre has grown outside traditional urban and suburban domains. There’s now an urgent need to deploy fibre capabilities in rural areas to meet these demands.

5G will bring more fibre to more remote locations

 

Happily, this need can be helped by the growth of 5G networks – national coverage means just that, so there’s huge attention to delivering connectivity in areas that have long been underserved by existing mobile technologies. This is driving fibre rollout to service the thousands of new cell sites – and, handily, bringing fibre out from metro areas to penetrate more remote regions.So, one consequence of 5G will be that there will be more pervasive fibre, right when people are starting to demand it to support new, perhaps long-term or hybrid WFH arrangements. This is great for consumer and business customers in more remote areas, but it does make life complicated for operators who now must build this infrastructure.

Fibre rollout will use a greater diversity of access paths and infrastructure

Operators must consider new ways to deliver fibre connectivity. For example, while traditional digging remains essential for laying fibre cables, other infrastructure needs to be included to ensure the widest distribution and to ensure that costs are contained.This means using infrastructure such as railways (that have long been leveraged for long-distance fibre routes), but also to extend to other corridors, such as canals and waterways. In the UK, the potential to use water pipes to homes for laying cables is also being explored[3] and there are all sorts of initiatives underway in other countries.
 

And, it’s not just the means of laying fibre: alternative locations are also sought for 5G cells. In Germany, streetlights and other street furniture are being considered as hosts for radio access points – which, in turn, need to be connected to fibre to service the data backhaul and connectivity they need[4].

One thing is certain: planning and building the network to service full 5G coverage and to deliver much-needed rural fibre connectivity is going to require the integration of new conduits and paths, as well as innovative uses of existing kinds of infrastructure.

A new way of visualising logical and physical telecoms inventory is required for effective fibre rollout
Fibre rollout in IMS

What this means is that operators building fibre for cellular, and operators building fibre for direct residential and business access (both goals overlap, to some extent) must have tools that enable them to visualise their physical network inventory as it develops and to integrate new kinds of physical assets – not just trenches and wayleaves, but also street furniture, water pipes and so on – and the logical network assets associated with them.

In summary, anything that can carry a fibre will be considered, so tracking and managing network inventory will become a critical factor. This isn’t just in terms of volume (more assets), but also in terms of diversity (different kinds of assets and routes).

This will place huge strain on legacy telecoms inventory management solutions that cannot adapt to the new demands – or combine physical and logical views. So, while surging fibre demand is great for your business, can your OSS systems cope? If they do not support the agility required to drive fibre (and cell site) deployments, perhaps it’s time to talk to us?

Our telecoms Inventory Management System (VC4-IMS) provides complete visibility of all physical resources (of all kinds), combined with the same depth of insight into logical services. This provides the correlated, end-to-end view you need to rollout the kind of fibre your customers need – and one that can easily adapt to new forms of infrastructure as they are incorporated into your evolving network.

So, to find out more about how we can help you to incorporate and deliver new fibre routes, while tracking your entire evolving inventory – whether radio cells, water pipes, canals, and so on – contact us today.
 
 

[1] https://www.oecd.org/digital/broadband/broadband-statistics-update.htm

[2] https://5g.co.uk/guides/5g-frequencies-in-the-uk-what-you-need-to-know/

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/broadband-rollout-trial-to-target-hard-to-reach-homes-through-uks-water-pipes

[4] https://www.telefonica.de/news/press-releases-telefonica-germany/2021/07/innovative-radio-cell-o2-and-mainova-turn-frankfurter-street-light-into-a-5g-hotspot.html

Topics: Network management, FTTX, 5G, Telecom Inventory Management