Optimising fibre optic networks through advanced GIS

By Jean-François Allard, director, EMEA Utilities & Communications, Hexagon’s Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division.

The communications industry is experiencing unprecedented technological evolution, fierce competition, and demands for service reliability, which is driving the expansion of fibre optic networks. Unfortunately, this rapid process of expansion and optimisation has meant that telecoms providers are increasingly encountering a lack of real-time information and necessary connectivity.

Indeed, many providers find that conventional Geographic Information System (GIS) tools lack the detail and ability to model the relationships needed to integrate with operational systems and coordinate a network’s logical and physical elements. As fibre optic networks form part of the UK’s critical infrastructure, it is vital that telecoms network operators leverage advanced GIS technology to optimise and maintain the rollout of these highly evolved networks.

Upscaled data demand

Data consumption in the 21st century has grown far beyond the days of just placing a call or sending an email. Instead, residential consumers have grown accustomed to having access to high-speed internet services often for multiple users in a household that support everything from streaming television shows to playing video games across several devices. Businesses and critical services, such as utilities and public safety, simply cannot function without reliable communications systems. The scale of demand has resulted in a saturated market where there are many providers competing for telephone, internet, and entertainment business. This includes the bundling of multiple services, add-on options, and the rapidly changing wireless environment.

To try to keep up with the demand, fibre optic networks have been expanded exponentially. Fibre has also evolved into a fundamental component of high-speed broadband communications networks required for smart grid, fibre to the home (FTTH), and intelligent information management systems. Thanks to fibre optic networks, each of these solutions link sensors, communications, and critical infrastructure through high-speed backhaul communications.

The rise of 5G and IoT

In addition to providing improved high-speed and low-latency wireless networks, 5G is expected to dramatically speed up the development of next-generation solutions. These include autonomous driving, augmented reality, the digitalisation of infrastructure, Internet of Things (IoT), smart cities, and much more.

To effectively bring 5G to life and reduce implementation times and costs, network operators require network design and management software to solve a variety of problems. Knowledge sharing, field activities management, and control of infrastructure costs are just some of the challenges that need to be resolved. Operators will need intensive collaboration between the field and back office and wider availability of analytical tools for real time activity insights.

The rise of IoT will also present data and network capacity challenges that are too complex for traditional network connections. As an example, from a utilities perspective there is a need to improve the data interoperability between smart devices and power providers. This is where fibre optic networks come in as they enable organisations to improve the data and establish a more

robust smart grid. The power grid is also moving toward a competitive model with more distributed generation, and fibre can provide a new source of revenue.

The challenges of implementing fibre optic networks

Despite their many benefits, fibre optic networks are highly complex to develop and need to be designed right the first time to minimise cost overruns and adhere to the overall strategic principles of the provider. Many telecommunications providers develop the network designs internally and have external engineering firms managing the more detailed designs and overall implementation. This can be a challenging process. It is often decentralised, and users rely on tools like spreadsheets, which can lead to errors.

While digital solutions can help support better and more centralised design and implementation processes, there is often also a lack of real-time information and the necessary integrations and connectivity. Telecommunications network operators need a network model that delivers accurate, current information across their organisation – while also reducing legacy and cumbersome paperwork. They also need integrated solutions for relevant improvements, optimised processes, and better communication.

The solution is advanced GIS technology which can streamline engineering processes and maintain an operations-ready network model accessible across the business. Indeed, these solutions can provide location-based information and tools for the complete lifecycle of civil infrastructure and fibre network management – from design and construction to maintenance and operations, both in the back office and the field.

The key benefits of advanced GIS

Unlike traditional GIS tools, which typically only support geolocation and spatial analyses, an advanced GIS can deliver additional benefits. First, they model records asset details and relationships to support most functions by filtering and rendering information in different ways, on-the-fly: as text, maps, schematics, or diagrams. This provides each operator the right level of detail in the right way for their task, without maintaining duplicated data.

They can also deliver a better ROI through engineering capabilities with other business systems, which delivers streamlined workflows and provides valuable insights, such as comparing alternative design proposals from technical and financial perspectives. The technology further improves processes, as lower data latency and universal access allows advanced GIS solutions to support time-sensitive use cases, resulting in faster operations, greater efficiency, and enhanced capabilities.

Finally, advanced GIS can reduce fibre optic network financial risk by assessing high-level costs of proposed plans. It enables planners to design and assess alternative proposals for buildout, including the building of distribution points, service areas, and deployment methods.

Given the importance and expense of fibre optic networks – and their continued expansion – the vital benefits of advanced GIS will ensure its rollout comes hand in hand with the growth of this infrastructure. If this is not the case, avoidable costs will accumulate, and unnecessary strain will be placed on the UK’s telecoms networks.

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