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Achieving Excellence in Fiber Optic Network Planning and Design: Best Practices and Strategies

Discover innovative approaches to fiber optic network design and planning for future-proofing connectivity

Updated: April 25, 2024 12 mins read Published: July 17, 2023

In an era driven by seamless connectivity and lightning-fast data transfer, the pivotal role of fiber optic networks cannot be overstated. As the backbone of modern telecommunications, this technology has ushered in an era of unprecedented speed, reliability, and capacity. AT&T’s recent move to expand its Hyper-Gig fiber services is a bright example of how commercial fiber platforms can fuel market competition.

For operators and end-users who are well-versed in this ever-evolving sphere fiber network design and implementation are a necessity. Operators are also facing tough challenges of fiber network design, such as limited visibility during construction and trouble scaling. That’s why we have prepared a concise field guide on best practices and strategies to build networks better, faster, and cheaper. Let’s delve right in.

What lies behind fiber optic network design and planning?

Operators start with a fiber planning phase to ensure their networks will provide reliable service for the long haul. Planning and design is a process that includes many decisions, involving first defining the communication protocols to be used on the network and defining geographical layout. It also involves selecting transmission equipment. Operators define the network’s topology, equipment needs, communication system, and set of services that will be made available to users.

Planning and design involves coordinating everyone engaged in any way to consider all requirements while staying on the same page. It entails technical and business considerations and matters related to permits, inspections, and easements.

Exploring the global market for fiber optic networks

Since fiber technology is more capable than copper cables of meeting connectivity demand, fiber networks are constantly growing. According to ResearchAndMarkets, the global market for fiber optics was estimated at $5.8 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach $11.5 billion by 2030, increasing at a CAGR of 8.9%. This is the dominant broadband access technology across half of OECD countries today.

Achieving Excellence in Fiber Optic Network Planning and Design: Best Practices and Strategies

Source: OECD broadband statistics update, OECD

We’re finding that customers across most global regions increasingly prefer faster broadband services delivered over fiber platforms, as opposed to ADSL. This trend will continue as more bandwidth-hungry young consumers become paying decision makers.

Jolanta Stanke, research director at Point Topic

From concept to reality: 10 key steps in fiber network design and implementation & expert tips

Design involves systematically considering various factors to ensure efficient and reliable connectivity. Though the details may vary depending on the operator and scale, there are some universal steps involved.

Step 1: Planning and requirements gathering

First, it’s crucial to understand the requirements and objectives: desired coverage area, expected bandwidth demand, number of users or subscribers, specific services or applications that the network should support.

This phase involves engaging stakeholders, defining the coverage area, conducting a population analysis, collecting bandwidth and service requirements, and assessing existing infrastructure. Planning and requirements gathering also include regulatory requirements gathering, financial analysis, risk assessment, and mitigation.

Expert tips: Opt for a robust collaborative digital platform to accelerate planning and design while having a helicopter view of construction and maintenance operations. Collaborative interfaces enable information sharing, an exchange of ideas, real-time communication, version control, and document sharing. Collaborative platforms ensure seamless cooperation throughout the design and planning process.

Achieving Excellence in Fiber Optic Network Planning and Design: Best Practices and Strategies

Step 2: Site surveys and feasibility studies

Site surveys assess the physical infrastructure and terrain of the coverage area. During this step, network operators identify potential obstacles affecting deployments, such as buildings, highways, or natural barriers. Also, network operators evaluate environmental considerations and identify any legal requirements. Feasibility studies assess the proposed design’s economic viability and technical feasibility. They also include risk assessment and stakeholder analysis.

Expert tips: While conducting site surveys and feasibility studies, automated request generation systems come in handy. Request generation systems ensure that tasks are assigned to appropriate teams or individuals and that progress is tracked efficiently.

Also, consider adding a workforce management system to facilitate resource allocation, task assignment, and progress tracking within the design and planning team. A workforce management system can ensure the efficient use of human resources, optimize scheduling, and enable real-time visibility into the status of different design and planning activities.

Achieving Excellence in Fiber Optic Network Planning and Design: Best Practices and Strategies

Step 3: Network topology design

Once operators have gathered all the requirements for planning, conducted site surveys, and evaluated overall project feasibility, they get down to designing topology. This involves determining the placement of cables, equipment cabinets, splice points, and other components. Within this step, operators consider factors such as the distance between nodes, the required cables, redundancy and resilience measures, and scalability for future expansion.

Expert tips: Within the network topology design step, consider using application programming interfaces (APIs) to integrate various software systems and tools used in design and planning. APIs allow different applications to communicate and share data, streamlining workflows and enhancing productivity. For example, APIs can enable the integration of design software with geographic information systems (GIS) to accurately map and visualize infrastructure.

Achieving Excellence in Fiber Optic Network Planning and Design: Best Practices and Strategies

Step 4: Fiber optic cable routing

When it comes to planning the actual path of cables, consider the shortest and most efficient routes. Cable routing involves considering factors such as existing infrastructure (utility poles, conduits), rights of way, permitting requirements, and minimizing potential disruptions to the environment and existing services.

Expert tips: Route optimization tools (usually GIS-powered solutions) can assist in determining the optimal path for laying cables, accounting for distance, existing infrastructure, terrain, and construction feasibility. Consider route optimization solutions to minimize construction costs, reduce the potential for service disruptions, and ensure that the network follows the most cost-effective and reliable path.

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Step 5: Equipment selection

Fiber network design is only possible with appropriate networking equipment, such as fiber optic cables, connectors, termination boxes, splicing equipment, and active components (for example, switches and routers). Operators while selecting needed equipment consider capacity, reliability, scalability, and compatibility with existing infrastructure.

Selecting appropriate equipment and strategically placing it within the infrastructure ensures efficient data transmission, optimal network performance, and ease of maintenance. Choosing the right equipment and determining its optimal placement involves considering factors such as signal loss, power requirements, scalability, and redundancy.

Step 6: Capacity and bandwidth planning

During this step, operators consider expected capacity and bandwidth requirements to ensure sufficient resources. Capacity and bandwidth planning involve estimating the number of subscribers, the types of services or applications to be offered, and anticipated growth in demand over time.

Expert tips: The capacity and bandwidth planning step also include planning for network management systems and monitoring tools to optimize performance and troubleshoot issues. Configuration solutions automate repetitive tasks and ease the workload of an administrator. Also, configuration tools reduce error rates when changes occur, automatically detecting changes within each node. These tools raise red flags and offer ways to make the network more secure.

At the same time, performance management tools can track outages and general performance issues, visualize an overview of the entire network on a map and measure performance benchmarks.

Achieving Excellence in Fiber Optic Network Planning and Design: Best Practices and Strategies

Step 7: Power and infrastructure planning

Networks require power supply and backup systems to ensure uninterrupted service. This step involves determining power source options and backup power solutions (batteries and generators) as well as provisioning appropriate power distribution systems. Additional considerations may include environmental conditions, security measures, and climate control for equipment cabinets or data centers.

Step 8: Network documentation and standards

Throughout the design process, operators create detailed documentation to record configurations, equipment specifications, cable routing plans, etc. This is how operators create a knowledge hub for deployment, troubleshooting, and future maintenance. Within this step, operators ensure compliance with industry standards and regulations, which is also crucial.

Step 9: Implementation and testing

Once the design is finalized, the actual deployment begins. Operators lay, splice, and terminate cables according to planned routes. Then they install and configure networking equipment and conduct thorough testing to verify performance, connectivity, and adherence to design specifications.

Fiber optic network testing encompasses more than just installation activities. Fiber optic network testing begins with the initial development of new fiber optic components in the laboratory, continues through the installation and activation steps, and extends to the ongoing monitoring and troubleshooting required to ensure consistent and reliable performance in the field for years. Within the network lifecycle, testing and monitoring include the following five phases:

Achieving Excellence in Fiber Optic Network Planning and Design: Best Practices and Strategies

Expert tips: Fiber network testing goes beyond the initial activation. After activation, ongoing monitoring is essential to ensure network integrity. Periodic checks are sometimes performed, but active fiber monitoring (AFM) is considered an industry best practice. Some solutions offer remote testing tools that simplify continuous automated monitoring with proactive alerts, detecting degradation caused by damage, outages, power loss, or flash power disruptions that can disrupt service.

Step 10: Ongoing maintenance and optimization

Operators continuously monitor and maintain their networks, proactively addressing issues, upgrading equipment, and optimizing performance. Service performance tools can automatically identify and locate faults, alerting operators and aiding demarcation between sections. During a data center outage, such tools can quickly determine if the issue is about a fiber break, power outage, software failure, or attack, ruling out or identifying physical problems first.

Troubleshooting requires fast root cause identification. Field issues often involve outages or degradation due to compromised cables, connectors, or hardware. Test equipment used during installation can effectively troubleshoot these issues, reducing the mean time to repair (MTTR). Locating the problem takes up around 60% of the average MTTR, so auto-detection and location capabilities save significant time and money. With quicker problem resolution, technicians can be dispatched to fix issues rather than spending hours or days trying to locate them, minimizing revenue losses due to outages.

Strategies for decreasing CapEx in optical network design and planning

Comprehensive tools and fiber optic management software are essential for achieving end-to-end network lifecycle management. These tools facilitate physical network asset planning, design, and management, cataloging equipment types and locations while illustrating their connectivity within the network. By automating the design process, network operators can save time and deliver more projects, and collaboration among their teams could be improved.

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Using comprehensive tools for planning and design ensures timely access to crucial information. Also, with centralized network data, operations and repair teams can quickly locate and address field faults. For example, proactive troubleshooting, service assurance automation, and actionable network intelligence lead to decreased downtime, greater customer satisfaction, improved field worker productivity, and higher reliability.

Moreover, optimizing layouts reduces construction costs and leads to CapEx optimization. By applying smart planning and design, providers can achieve efficient fiber deployments, increase customer acquisition rates, and optimize operational and cost efficiencies. Implementing the right strategies results in higher ROI and customer satisfaction.

1. Establishing efficient site data management

Streamline data entry, enhance transparency, and boost sales team effectiveness by creating a comprehensive data set and efficient tracking capabilities for each site.

2. Cluster-based approach for optimal ROI

Cluster areas based on opportunity, deployment approach, and build sequence to generate a healthy cash flow and maximize return on investment (ROI). Also, consider factors like customer footprints, competitors’ plans, and regulatory issues to determine optimal deployment methods and fiber technologies.

3. Enhancing build efficiency and speed

Improve coordination among engineering, construction, and provisioning teams to accelerate rollouts. Also, consider minimizing repeat visits and redundant activities, bid on adjacent areas, and employ agile techniques for better alignment and coordination. These practices can reduce construction cycle time by 20% to 30%.

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4. Optimizing deployment costs

Minimize direct unit costs by deploying high-performing construction crews and leveraging innovative rollout technologies like circular hydraulic drilling and micro trenching. At the same time, consider developing digital tools to guide efficient rollouts, estimate costs, and ensure successful first pass builds. A comprehensive cost review program can reduce direct unit costs by up to 30%.

5. Minimizing indirect costs

Consolidate operating centers, including shared facilities with adjacent operators, to lower equipment and facility management expenses. Optimizing operating centers can reduce costs by 20% to 30%, reducing the CapEx burden.

6. Leveraging alternative access options

To accelerate customer acquisition before the full buildout, use temporary alternative access options such as leasing capacity from overbuilders or deploying fixed wireless access services in rural areas. This approach can lead to improved take-up rates, revenue growth from 5% to 10%, and a 2% to 5% boost to EBITDA.

7. Accelerating service delivery

Utilize digital tools to expedite customer service provision, improve operational efficiency, and minimize delays. Virtual site visits and remote monitoring can facilitate quick and easy customer connections. At the same time, digital accelerants can cut service delivery cycle times in half for a significant portion of customers.

Achieving Excellence in Fiber Optic Network Planning and Design: Best Practices and Strategies

Source: A Faster, Better, Cheaper Way to Build US Fiber Networks, BCG

8. Automating throughout deployment

Automation solutions integrate advanced digital tools to capture and analyze data throughout the deployment. Also, creating comprehensive digital twins of targeted footprints is becoming standard practice. Digital twins include attributes such as site location, site type, demographics, terminal locations, and installed equipment.

Access to digital twins’ data enables broadband providers to develop designs, refine assumptions, evaluate economics, and prioritize deployment areas using visual blueprints and geoinformation system capabilities.

Achieving Excellence in Fiber Optic Network Planning and Design: Best Practices and Strategies

Source: A Faster, Better, Cheaper Way to Build US Fiber Networks, BCG

Learn how we helped our client boost their fiber network business by optimizing design and planning

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Achieving optimal link loss budgets in fiber network design

Achieving Excellence in Fiber Optic Network Planning and Design: Best Practices and Strategies

A link loss budget is a crucial concept in design that refers to the calculation and allocation of acceptable signal loss along a fiber optic link. The link loss budget determines the maximum permissible loss at various points within the network, including connectors, splices, fiber lengths, and other components.

Acceptable link loss budgets for fiber optic links are established by organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Fiber Channel Industry Association. These organizations provide guidelines for determining permissible levels of signal loss based on specific data transmission speeds. Having a link loss budget is essential for ensuring reliable and efficient operation:

Signal integrity

Fiber optic signals can experience loss as they travel through the network due to factors like attenuation, dispersion, and connector losses. The link loss budget helps define the acceptable level of signal loss at different network stages. By properly allocating the link loss budget, operators can maintain signal integrity within acceptable limits, ensuring reliable communication and minimizing errors or data loss.

Performance and quality

By considering anticipated losses in components and setting appropriate limits, operators ensure that a network can deliver the desired data rates, signal quality, and error-free transmission.

Network planning and expansion

The link loss budget provides guidelines for selecting appropriate cable types, connectors, and components based on their loss characteristics. It helps to determine the maximum allowable distance between elements and facilitates the calculation of power budgets for optical transmitters and receivers. This information is vital when designing new segments or extending existing ones.

Troubleshooting and maintenance

By comparing measured losses with the allocated budget, operators can identify potential causes of signal degradation, pinpoint faulty components or connections, and efficiently rectify problems. The link loss budget serves as a valuable tool for diagnosing and resolving network performance issues.

Compliance with standards

Link loss budgets are often defined by industry standards and guidelines, such as those set by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) or the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Adhering to these standards ensures compatibility and interoperability between different components and facilitates the integration of equipment from different vendors.

From vision to reality: Mastering fiber optic network planning and design with Intellias

While planning and designing fiber networks, operators face challenges such as acquiring the necessary infrastructure and right-of-way permissions, calculating costs and funding needed for future networks, and assessing network scalability. Fiber network planning and design might be tedious. But it shouldn’t be.

To make fiber network planning and design smoother and more efficient, thoroughly plan and gather requirements, foster collaboration with relevant stakeholders, and use advanced tools and technologies.

With the help of a reliable technology partner such as Intellias, it is easy to design with scalability and future growth in mind, anticipating emerging technologies and evolving customer demands. By incorporating flexibility and scalability into the initial design, you can minimize the need for costly network upgrades and ensure that your network can accommodate future expansion.

Contact our team to unleash the power of your fiber optic networks and maximize efficiency with advanced planning and design solutions.

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