Careful planning keeps costs under control

Guaranteeing operational quality while reducing expenditure is the ongoing objective of all telecommunications network operators. Edgar Aker of Draka Communications, now part of the Prysmian Group, explains how a combination of design software and innovative products can significantly reduce total cost of ownership.

As a leading cable manufacturer, Draka engineers have seen from hands-on experience how next-generation telecommunications networks are driven by innovation. They have also witnessed the determination of operators to reduce capital expenditure (capex) and operational expenditure (opex) to produce a lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

Getting more for less may seem like a tall order, especially in tough times, but approaching the design of a network from the top down and building it from the bottom up will provide positive results.

Top down design

The modern telecommunications network can be seen as a three-tier pyramid, with the passive infrastructure at the bottom supporting the active network in the middle, with retail services at the top. The passive infrastructure provides the foundation, and the layers above rely on it to ensure optimum quality of service.

With this in mind, a network should be designed from the top down. For example, if a passive optical network (PON) is used then the other two layers should be designed accordingly. However, when it comes to network build it is important to take a bottom-up approach by considering all the components available as well as physical limitations such as duct sharing, rights of way and local registration.

The service side of the network is constantly changing and developing as network technologies progress. If enough attention is paid to specifying the right passive infrastructure, it can last between 20-30 years, enabling the active network to be future proofed for three to four years. Therefore, from a business case perspective, cost calculation should focus on the passive layer using careful design and planning to reduce capex and opex.

It is important to remember that there is no "one size fits all" solution. A network should be designed according to local requirements, and operators need to carefully define what they want and expect from it – whether it is low latency, large bandwidth or reliability. Only then should the technology and topology be chosen. 

Software control

Reducing the capex of a passive infrastructure involves reducing the costs associated with installation, civil works, optical fibre cables, connectivity, network engineering and project management. Successfully limiting the expense associated with these various elements requires a holistic approach to network planning and special design software, such as Draka’s XSNet Network Software Suite, can help operators specify the most appropriate network concept.

Design and planning software creates the most cost-effective network by automating, sequencing and simplifying components and processes as much as possible. By incorporating intelligent mathematical algorithms, users can change parameters and design various network concepts within minutes. The software eliminates the need to "guesstimate" material requirements, which means no more having to redo preliminary drawings or cost calculations when a project gets the go-ahead. 

Getting the design right keeps costs under control, while optimisation tools ensure that the exact quantities of materials are ordered. By employing a smart planning approach, digital information can be used to analyse and visualise various network scenarios quickly and easily, while survey information can also be used to create detailed lists, drawings, working reports and schematics. 

By investing in digital maps users are also able to identify existing infrastructure and avoid on-the-job changes to plans, making sure that material and labour costs do not increase once the project has started. If the design specification does need to change the software calculates and redesigns the network automatically.

Time is money

Labour can form as much as 38% of the total cost of a network build, and on-site labour is notoriously difficult to budget for. However, once the design of the network infrastructure has been finalised, there are a number of methods to reduce the expense associated with it. 

Over recent years we have seen increased demand for prefabricated points of presence (POPs). A prefabricated POP is built in a factory controlled environment, which means that it can be fully checked, tested and signed off prior to being delivered to site. Once delivered, it can be positioned on a concrete foundation and then the cables and/or ducts can be connected quickly and easily.

A prefabricated POP offers the highest flexibility and ultimate network stability to meet the needs of urban installations. It can be pre-planned and inserted into network infrastructures, providing a secure facility housing servers, routers, ATM switches and digital and analogue call aggregators. Pre-fabricated POPs also help network service providers achieve an optimum POP cost/connection ratio for densely populated areas.

Increasing the density of connections and reducing the size of the cables, patching products and associated components, can further reduce the cost of POPs, while the use of bend-insensitive fibre-optic cables can also improve handling while reducing installation time.

Speedier installation of outside plant can make a huge difference to a project’s overall expenditure and this can be achieved in a number of ways, including eliminating on-site splicing and simplifying installation techniques using the latest plug and play technologies. Digging costs can also be minimised with the use of smaller cables and connectivity to reduce civil works.

Innovative solutions are also available to reduce the time and labour costs of indoor installations and eliminate the need for splicing at the customer premises. By pre-fitting a fibre-optic cable with the ferrule of an LC connector, it can then be blown, pushed or pulled through microducts. Once it is located at the termination point, the connector housing is snapped around the ferrule and the cable connected.

Avoiding surprises

By taking a methodical approach to network infrastructure design and build, it is clear that opex and capex can be reduced. This means understanding rather than underestimating the role of the passive infrastructure and the use of smart engineering tools to optimise the capabilities of the network. Taking the time to use design and planning software and using the latest products and installation techniques will reduce the risk of unpleasant surprises, and can significantly lower TCO.