By Jean-François Allard, Director, EMEA Utilities & Communications, Hexagon’s Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division
Fibre optic networks are rapidly expanding. This change is being driven by digital transformation, upscaled competition and increasing demands for service reliability. While this expansion will serve the UK’s telecom networks well, it is being stymied by network providers needing more real-time information and optimised connectivity.
Compared to a classical Physical Network Inventory solution (PNI), these processes can be far better guaranteed through the use of next-generation Geographic Information Systems (GIS) that can fully facilitate the details and model the relationships needed to ensure a network’s physical elements. As fibre optic networks are here to stay, it is paramount that telecom network operators advance their GIS technology accordingly and embrace this new era of network connectivity. Otherwise, there will be risks and costs to the UK’s telecom infrastructure.
A surge in data
In the information era, the world now truly runs on data and our consumption of it has exploded. While previous typical data usage may have been just sending an email or placing a call, residential consumers now expect a high-speed internet service for multiple users across the entire household – a trend that has only increased since the dramatic shift to working from home sparked by Covid-19 restrictions.
The network channels must now uphold the demand for the high-quality streaming of television shows, multiple zoom calls and video games being played over several devices. This comes at a cost to our business and critical services, which also rely on these channels and are inhibited from best performance through demands made on the network.
To facilitate this data demand, fibre optic networks are expanding at a pace and have become an integral part of high-speed broadband communications networks required for smart grid, fibre to the home (FTTH), and intelligent information management systems.
The emergence of 5G and IoT
While improving high-speed and low-latency networks, 5G is also predicted to increase the pace of next-generation networking solutions. This will underly digital transformation; bringing the likes of autonomous driving, augmented reality, the digitalisation of infrastructure, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Smart Cities to society.
However, implementing 5G is very costly and requires a revamp of the existing network infrastructure. This will require knowledge sharing, field activities management, and control of infrastructural costs. Operators will further require holistic collaboration between the field and back-office with wider availability of analytical tools for real-time activity insights.
Adding to demands on the network is the continual rise of IoT, which will further complicate data and connectivity needs as more devices are introduced to the network. In the realm of utilities, for example, there will be a demand for better data interoperability between smart devices and power providers. Fibre optic networks will act as a framework to these increased demands, allowing organisations to improve data and performance across the smart grid.
Putting fibre optic networks in place
Implementing fibre optic networks is not a simple task. They are hugely complex to develop and have to be designed precisely to minimise cost overruns and follow the overall strategic principles of the provider. Exacerbating this issue is the fact that many providers develop their network designs internally and have external engineering companies managing the more detailed designs and overall implementation. Therefore, the task ends up decentralised, and providers often rely on manual tools like spreadsheets, which leads to errors.
Digital solutions can help encourage more centralised design and implementation processes, but there is often also a stark lack of real-time information surrounding the necessary integrations and connectivity. To ensure optimised fibre optic implementation, network providers should install a digital model that can provide accurate, real-time data across their organisation.
This is where GIS technology comes in, as it can give visibility into and optimise network engineering processes across the company. The technology provides much-needed location-based information and tools for the complete lifecycle of civil infrastructure and fibre optic management. This spans from design and construction to maintenance and operations, both in the back-office and out in the field.
How advanced GIS can help
Advanced GIS technologies can deliver a further raft of benefits to implementing a fibre optic network. First, they model asset details and relationships to support most functions by filtering and rendering information in multiple different ways, on the go. For example, as text, maps, schematics, or diagrams. This provides each operator with the appropriate level of detail in the correct way for their task.
Vitally, advanced GIS can also keep large projects within budget, delivering a better ROI through coordinating engineering capabilities with other business systems. This provides streamlined workflows and valuable insights, such as comparing alternative design proposals from technical and financial perspectives. The technology also improves processes, as lower data latency and universal access allow advanced GIS solutions to support time-sensitive use cases, resulting in faster operations, greater efficiency and enhanced capabilities.
Lastly, advanced GIS reduces fibre optic financial risks by accurately assessing the high-level cost of proposed plans. This then enables telecoms providers to design and assess alternative proposals for buildout, including the building of distribution points, service areas and deployment methods.
With fibre optic networks set to be a key component of the national telecom infrastructure, it is vital that their implementation is done correctly. Advanced GIS technology can ensure that, as these networks are developed, they will not come at a cost to the companies creating them.