Maximising Your Fibre Network ROI

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped unify the call for universal broadband to ensure that no family, frontline worker, small business, or community is left behind without connectivity again. The question going forward for communications service providers (CSPs) is which long-term broadband network strategy ensures high-speed broadband is available to everyone. By Vanesa Diaz, Senior Market Development Manager for Corning Optical Communications.

  • 2 years ago Posted in

Fibre broadband networks provide the best solution and have proven their ability to scale over time well beyond comparable copper or wireless technologies. 

Given the lifespan of a fibre infrastructure, CSPs may want to challenge their expectations with respect to the time to recoup their investment, given the lifespan of a fibre infrastructure. An underlying fibre broadband network empowers CSPs and communities to meet the challenge of bringing ultra-broadband capability for both fixed and mobile networks. Significant investment is required to achieve this goal. Through planning, CSPs and communities can maximise the return on this investment, giving their customers the broadband network that best prepares them for the future.

Build it Once 

As CSPs and communities navigate their future a lot can be learned from the past, such as the build-it-once approach. The last thing any CSP wants to do is make an investment in an underlying communications network, only to find out years later that a significant network investment is required to keep pace with innovation and customer demand.

Historically, networks were built in this way – a network was built, only to learn years later that additional investment, upgrades and development was needed to meet the demands of the evolving customer segments and applications. This has often led to multiple interconnected networks which are incredibly complex and expensive to maintain. 

Considering the total cost of a build is heavily influenced by installation labour, in some cases upwards of 60%, building a network that requires little to no new outside plant construction after initial build to expand or upgrade will minimise the total cost of ownership. To realise a better ROI, implementing a strategy to build one underlying fibre broadband network that enables various applications is prudent.

As fibre technologies advance, the infrastructure they ride on largely remains unchanged. Building an all-fibre network gives CSPs the ability to converge customer demands on a single unified network. Revenue models multiply as a result, delivering an enhanced ROI. 

The build-it-once approach also extends to mobile and smart cities. If communities want to participate in a 5G future, an underlying fibre-rich network is required. Fibre-fed small cells will power both 5G and Wi-Fi, making a wireless ultra-broadband experience possible. Tangentially, the thousands, or even millions, of sensors needed to deliver on the promise of the smart city will need fibre connectivity to function properly.

Whether it’s utilising wave-division multiplexing (WDM) on an optical transport network (OTN) segment for 5G transport or employing NG-PON2 to meet increasing residential, SMB, or enterprise demands, CSPs can truly maximise their revenue opportunity from a foundational fibre-based network. Build it once and leverage it several times over.

As CSPs embrace a fibre broadband strategy, there are several factors that can improve ROI. Among all key strategies, noteworthy options include leveraging existing network assets and considering all network design options. If minimising CapEx is a primary concern, considering “lean fibre” architectures may also be an option to explore.

Leveraging Existing Network Assets 

Traditional telcos have network assets that they’ve learned to leverage for decades. These assets allow long-standing CSPs to bring fibre deeper into their networks, with fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) networks now proliferating across the country. Newer CSP entrants, such as electric cooperatives and municipalities, are fortunate to have similar network assets that traditionally were used for delivering electricity. Those same assets can be easily repurposed for a fibre network and go beyond the obvious poles and rights-of-way infrastructure critical to a fibre-build, to include assets like huts, substations, towers, trucks, and technicians. Technology enhancements that shrink fibre terminals and drops may allow existing handholes or pedestals to be leveraged, reducing upfront costs even further. 

Fibre Network Design Strategies 

Planning is necessary to maximise future revenue opportunities. That includes ensuring fibre network designs anticipate expansions, dark fibre demand, or other unforeseen opportunities. This is of interest for those who are pursuing funding which can augment investments in fibre broadband builds.

Funding programs target unserved and underserved territories, but through proper design and planning, CSPs can build networks that are conducive to future expansion into neighboring markets. 

Additionally, if smart city or 5G is a part of the vision, network designs should consider higher fibre counts than what is indicated currently. More fibre capacity from the beginning creates potential for dark fibre leasing and other wholesale opportunities, as well as for taking advantage of unforeseen future demand to generate additional revenue opportunities. Fibre is unique because it’s the underlying infrastructure that best enables expansion to address market opportunities that may present themselves. Designing a network with these factors in mind is critical for maximising fibre broadband ROI and creating additional revenue opportunities. 

Lean Fibre Architecture 

For certain CSPs serving remote territories, turning to a lean fibre architecture strategy can positively impact a fibre network ROI by lowering upfront CapEx and splice labour during construction. A lean fibre strategy relies on distributed split architectures. This approach puts less fibre facilities in the network, whilst providing FTTP services. Ideally, all CSPs would follow a more fibre-rich home-run or centralised split architecture, both of which offer a high degree of flexibility, bandwidth capacity, and room for future network expansion. But these also require higher levels of upfront CapEx, which can be a drag on fibre network ROI – particularly in lower density markets. 

Adopting distributed split or optical tap architectures lessens feeder and distribution fibre cable requirements, thus lowering fibre management material and fibre splicing construction costs. This can improve the ROI calculations for less dense markets. However, the trade-off of these leaner architecture options limits bandwidth flexibility to discrete locations and future expansion as a result. This approach should be used in service areas where significant expansion and growth are not expected. 

The lean fibre approach can make sense in certain applications. Some of the downside risk can be mitigated by using a higher-capacity main distribution fibre cable that serves as surplus dark fibre. This approach takes advantage of the lower-cost lean architecture strategy, while including additional capacity in the network for future growth. 

The Best ROI Path 

Every broadband business strategy should aim to utilise an underlying technology that can best enable all applications, regardless of bandwidth demand or latency requirement. That capability gives CSPs an ROI advantage. It allows them to maximise their revenue opportunity. No other technology can handle the bandwidth and latency requirements of not only today’s applications, but tomorrow’s as well. 

With proper planning and a build-it-once vision, CSPs are not only positioning their companies and the communities they serve for the future, they are also maximising their ROI opportunity. By embracing some of the strategies outlined above, the investment in the network yields returns well beyond what can be found on a balance sheet.

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