The Ultimate Guide
Every fiber optic network operator needs a mapping software platform.
As the world gears up for 5G, fiber optic cable technology will only become more important for enabling high-speed, long-distance broadband all over the world.
However, network operators can’t simply bury fiber in the ground and expect to serve customers well. The most effective networks are born in the design phase before any cable is installed. Fiber network operators must invest significant time and money early on to ensure that their networks are built to thrive over the long term.
Network design involves many steps and can quickly overwhelm those with little experience. If you want to learn more about how to design a fiber optic network well, you’ve come to the right place.
Start at the beginning or jump to a specific section using the table of contents below! Read along, or download a PDF version.
There are many reasons to invest in fiber optic networks today.
First and foremost, technological innovation requires it. All over the world, demand for high-speed, broadband internet is increasing and data usage is growing rapidly. Copper wires are no longer able to support the level of connectivity that consumers and businesses need.
Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), we can also identify network gaps and inadequate telecommunication infrastructure more easily than ever before. Network operators can evaluate potential opportunities with market-specific insights and see what resources are already available in a given area. Additionally, we can effectively assess how environmental factors and competition will impact network development efforts.
Fiber optic networks are also a far more attractive financial investment today. The cost of fiber has gone down dramatically and expected revenues are higher given the demand for the technology. Additionally, takes less time to achieve profitability as network deployments have become more efficient.
Overall, there is far less risk involved given the array of technologies and wealth of information that we have available today.
Fiber optic network design describes the end-to-end process of preparing to launch a new fiber network. The design phase includes many decision areas, all of which are important to the operational and financial success of fiber networks.
In the design phase, operators determine the network’s topology, communication system, equipment needs, and list of services that will be made available to end users. These specific decisions are contingent upon the bandwidth demand in the intended market.
Operators will also prepare for future issues that may arise, obtain necessary permits, and begin documenting important details about network components and cable routes. During the design phase, it’s common to see multidisciplinary teams of people come together, including network designers, engineers, architects, and contractors. The designers, especially, must have in-depth knowledge of fiber optic technology, installation processes, and regulatory standards as they have significant impact on the overall direction of the development.
There are many ways to approach fiber network design. Every design phase looks different from project to project. What is most important is that the process is done and done well.
Fiber optic network design is critical for several reasons.
First, a network’s design is fundamental to meeting the underlying business objectives. Operators must ensure that every network element is appropriate for the anticipated bandwidth demands and end user services.
Second, effective fiber network design helps operators understand the full scope of requirements and activities involved in getting a new network up and running. There are many factors to consider, from the actual equipment used to how everything is documented. By going through each decision area, operators can ensure that their networks are compliant with local regulations and built for their unique needs.
Third, the design process enables operators to estimate their upfront and ongoing costs. They can identify potential cost savings and increase the ROI of the entire project before it begins. With the right tools and resources, fiber operators can optimize network layouts to the surrounding geography, thus reducing unnecessary construction and operating expenses related to maintenance.
It’s important for operators to realize that there is a correlation between initial CapEx and future operating costs - cutting too many corners upfront may lead to higher ongoing or repair expenses down the road. Fiber network design helps clarify what balance should exist between these two major cost categories.
By understanding the full scope of a project, network operators can also evaluate contractor bids effectively and choose partners that are well-positioned to address the unique opportunities associated with certain developments.
Fourth, the fiber network design process establishes healthy practices for fiber network management. When networks are designed well and appropriately documented, field teams can identify vulnerabilities in advance and address issues effectively as they arise. Operators are also empowered to invest strategically in future growth.
Today, many operators rely on fiber network design software programs to plan their projects. By using fiber design software, operators can reduce their overall design time, efficiently evaluate different network layouts, and collaborate with others throughout the process.
Fiber design software programs are offered by companies that specialize in fiber development, as well as those that operate in the telecommunications space more broadly. Before choosing one, it’s important to understand your goals in relation to what different solutions offer.
If you have vast fiber network design experience and the right personnel to execute, you may want a powerful platform that gives you complete flexibility over your design. If you are relatively new to the fiber space and want additional support, choose a company that is willing to partner with you more closely and provide education, resources, and consulting services.
Below are four companies that offer fiber network design software to kickstart your search.
Biarri is an application developer that helps businesses address operational and planning challenges across a variety of industries. The company offers cloud-based software and analytical capabilities to reduce costs and maximize efficiency.
With respect to telecommunications, Biarri supports companies through the planning and design phase of new fiber network developments. Biarri provides operators with an end-to-end platform to make critical design decisions and analyze their impacts. Operators can easily iterate and optimize network topologies before construction begins.
Founded in 1851, Corning is one of the longest standing companies in the materials science space. In addition to providing fiber network design support, Corning designs products in the glass science and ceramics science fields.
On the fiber network front, the company sells hardware, cables, connectors, and terminals. For those seeking design support, Corning offers a number of dedicated services. Network operators can hire on-site assistance through the company’s consulting program or request a proposal engineer to visit the development site and assess existing fiber cable routes.
Additionally, Corning provides educational resources and opportunities for professionals who want to further their knowledge in relevant areas. The company offers training seminars, webinars, online guides, and more around fiber-related topics.
Comsof Fiber, formerly known as FiberPlanIt, was founded in 1998 and has since contributed to fiber optic network developments that serve 100 million homes today. The company’s solution is built specifically for fiber network planning and design.
The platform enables operators to automate the design process for any FTTx network and simulate performance across real-world landscapes. Additionally, Comsof Fiber can convert designs directly into build plans, helping operators speed their time to market and increase ROI.
GE Grid Solutions is a subsidiary of the Boston-based conglomerate, General Electric, that helps utility companies manage electricity from source to consumption. The company offers equipment, consulting services, and software solutions across many energy niches.
Under its Utility & Telecommunication Geospatial Solutions vertical, GE Grid Solutions offers fiber network planning and design services as part of a broader integrated offering. The company provides infrastructure management, design optimization, and network analysis through a software-based application that uses GIS capabilities.
Regardless of the software program used, operators must collect certain field data to aid in the design process. There are two essential categories of field data: serviceable addresses and existing infrastructure.
Serviceable addresses represent potential paying customers, or end users, of network services. It’s crucial for operators to find reliable sources for this data and cross-validate findings as much as possible. In many cases, government data is inaccurate or incomplete when it comes to estimating potential serviceable addresses, which can lead to costly redesigns and unnecessary construction.
Existing infrastructure field data is important to collect as operators need to know what poles, conduits, and other assets are available for use. Doing this research upfront can save significant time and money by preventing operators from sourcing too much material or developing their own infrastructure.
There are many decisions that need to be made during the fiber network design phase. However, these decisions can be grouped into higher-level buckets that make it easier for operators to prioritize.
First and foremost, operators need to have a clear sense of the overarching purpose of a new network. Nearly all critical design decisions flow from this point.
Fiber networks can be designed for long-distance or same-site communication. Long-distance communication is primarily supported by outside plant networks which can carry signals across hundreds or thousands of miles. More and more, outside plant networks are delivering digital information directly to homes or commercial buildings as fiber optic technology has grown more sophisticated and cost effective.
Premises networks, on the other hand, are used for short-range communication and often support computer networks, security systems, and other similar applications. In these networks, it is still common to see copper and coaxial cables as the primary medium through which signals are transmitted.
Once the primary goal is established, operators can choose which communication system they will support and what transmission equipment is needed.
Fiber operators and network owners must define “financial success” for the proposed network development. In addition to calculating projected CapEx and OpEx, it’s important for those involved to have a sense of what revenue and profit per customer they need to achieve an attractive return on investment.
Additionally, calculations should factor in the time horizon needed to recoup upfront costs. Even if a network runs profitably from year to year, it may not make sense to move forward with a project that will take more than 20 years to breakeven. Overall, there are many different financial calculations and strategies that operators can use to qualify their project before investing significant time or money.
The two biggest factors when it comes to choosing transmission equipment are distance and bandwidth. It’s crucial to know both how far and how fast a network needs to carry signals to end users.
During this step, it’s important for operators to engage with the network owners and manufacturers to ensure that the right equipment is selected for the intended design. Equipment decisions vary drastically depending on if operators are preparing to support long, undersea routes or short links in dense cities or campuses.
Next, operators can start to think about the actual layout of their networks.
To start, designers should create both a high-level and low-level view of the proposed fiber network. The high-level design is intended to paint an overall picture of the architecture, signal flow, and relationships between crucial components. It also helps estimate costs before diving into the nuances of the network. The low-level design adds a layer of detail to the high-level design and defines the logic that will drive the individual components.
With the theoretical designs built, designers can then move to drawing layouts that correspond to real geographic areas. The physical landscape, natural or built, has a major impact on how cables are installed. Operators should consult with architects, building managers, and engineers to obtain architectural drawings for any infrastructure through which cables will run.
It is not uncommon for larger networks to require multiple types of cable placements in order to cover wide areas. Fiber may need to run underground, along roads, over telephone poles, underwater, or through conduits depending on the local geography.
At this stage, operators should also decide whether their network will be active or passive. Active networks manage signal distribution “actively” using electrically powered switching equipment. Passive networks rely on optical splitters to send signals where they need to go.
Although operators can make a lot of progress with digital planning and mapping, they should also make on-site visits, travel along proposed cable routes, and inspect buildings. Doing so enables them to see obstacles that may not be obvious otherwise.
Additionally, some local entities may have useful information on where pathways or conduits exist for other cables. Visiting local professionals can lead to insights that could save time and money on unnecessary construction.
When designing the actual layout of a network, it’s helpful to have a GIS platform capable of mapping geological data, such as roads, buildings, and local landscapes, alongside potential cable routes. That way, it is easy to visualize networks in the environments in which they will actually exist.
Before breaking any ground, operators should conduct utility research and ensure they can legally place cable and build out their desired network infrastructure. Some governments may prohibit or restrict certain types of fiber network developments.
Next, operators need to obtain all necessary permits, permissions, easements, and inspections. Every market is different, which is why it is helpful to have professionals on the team who fully understand the regulatory nuances in the area. Operators should also reach out to agencies that have information regarding power lines, gas lines, and other hidden infrastructure that could cause harm to personnel if impacted during installation.
Many local governments enforce a “Dig Once” policy, which encourages operators to install excess cables during initial installations. Doing so reduces future construction and disruption, especially in dense metropolitan areas. Operators should plan for future growth along their networks and place enough cable to support in-market expansion.
Once operators feel comfortable with their routes and have thoroughly vetted the build area, they are ready to select network components.
The type of cable needed depends on the design and installation approach. For example, if a developer decides to install cables in conduits underground for an OSP network, he or she needs cables that can withstand high pulling tension, especially for longer routes. If cables are going to be buried directly in the ground, they should be armored and capable of withstanding high pressures, animal biting, and sharp rocks.
With aerial installations, cables need to be securely fitted to telephone poles. The method by which cables are secured depends on the specific situation and what other wires may already exist along the route. For underwater installations, cables should have strong and sealed external layers that can exist without degrading for many years.
Cables for premises networks are typically distribution or breakout cables. Distribution cables are smaller in diameter and hold more fibers. However, they must terminate inside wall boxes or patch panels. Breakout cables are better suited for industrial applications and can make direct connections without any hardware.
For each of these installation approaches, operators must also choose corresponding splicing and termination hardware.
It is highly recommended that fiber network operators create materials lists consisting of all components and conservative quantities for the entire network. These lists are used to estimate material costs and provide installation teams with a full summary of what is needed.
Fiber network installation involves many specialized teams and skills. The biggest challenge at this stage is coordinating all efforts effectively to ensure that everything is completed in the right order. Project managers should work with team leads to obtain conservative estimates on completion times and understand the full scope of what is being accomplished at all times.
Inevitably, there will be challenges and issues that arise. There should always be a project manager or technical expert onsite who can review installation progress. It’s also necessary to have someone who can be reached 24/7, especially since many installations are done at night.
Even with a well-planned and executed installation process, there may be equipment issues that need to be addressed. For this reason, operators should have thorough plans around testing components and evaluating overall network performance. Installation teams should also visually inspect all components to check for physical damages.
Before installation begins, project leads and network owners should specify exactly what equipment should be tested, how test results are documented, and what metrics are expected. Many projects test every individual fiber and component before installation and then conduct follow-up assessments as segments are placed. Network owners often want to see test data that proves their networks operate as expected.
There are many reasons why cables break and fiber networks go down. In the design phase, it’s important to spend significant time on contingency planning and developing networks that are built to last.
One of the best ways to avoid network problems is by testing all components and routes thoroughly. Visually inspect every piece of equipment used within the network and measure performance against expected industry standards.
When determining the layout and architecture of a network, always consider how to build in redundancy in case the primary route goes down. That way, it’s possible to keep end users online on a secondary route while primary cables are fixed. Also, build power backups into the network architecture that automatically kick-in when primary power sources fails.
Another helpful strategy is to build geographic diversity into networks. If all cables are installed in the same way, a natural disaster could impact every fiber in the network. With installation diversity, operators avoid exposing entire cable routes to environmental challenges.
Maintain accurate documentation on all components, including where they are located, how they are accessed, how they are repaired, and who to contact for replacements. Remember that field technicians rely on accurate documentation to diagnose and address network issues, which is why this practice is so important. So much network downtime can be avoided if operators think critically about troubleshooting in the design phase rather than after a network is live.
A link loss budget analysis is how operators measure the operating characteristics of their networks. They are used to confirm that network equipment can support the target fiber optic link before the network is actually built.
In a link loss budget analysis, operators are testing attenuation and bandwidth across routing, components, fiber cables, length, and active components. In any network, signal strength weakens as it moves further and further away from the transmitting source. Signal is also lost at connector and splice points, which is why it’s necessary to ensure that signals make it from end to end without degrading too much.
The following steps are used to calculate total link loss margin:
After a network is designed, installation teams are ready to move forward. Installing fiber networks can be overwhelming as there are many teams to coordinate and tasks to execute. It’s important to develop an organized installation process and ensure all those involved are clear on their responsibilities.
One of the best ways to stay on track during a fiber installation is to create a master task list of all activities that need to be completed. Every fiber development is unique, which is why the master task list will differ from project to project.
It’s important to recognize that not all tasks will be completed sequentially. Some can move forward in parallel while others must be done in a particular order.
Consult all parties involved in a development to ensure that every critical step is captured and recorded. Every task should be listed with clear descriptions, completion dates, and contact information for whoever is on point. Any component purchases should list vendors, prices, expected delivery dates, and delivery locations.
Every network development needs a project manager who is involved from start to finish. The project manager should be apprised on the overall goal of the development, the layout of the network, the technical requirements, and the key people or organizations involved. The project manager should also have a replacement who can step in should the need arise.
The project manager is responsible for ensuring the network installation is carried out successfully and safely. He or she can use the master task list and any other project management tools to keep teams organized and on track. Involving project managers as early as possible in the design process can be helpful for making sure they are fully equipped with all of the information and context they need to be successful.
Network contractors are tremendously important to the overall success of the fiber development project. Potential partners should be evaluated on a number of metrics before moving forward with an installation.
Network contractors should be experienced and knowledgeable in every area of the fiber network design phase. They should have sharp design skills and expertise in the local geography, in addition to a working understanding of critical success factors related to the specific market. Contactors must also have vast technical proficiency and know how all network components work together.
On the installation side, contractors should include network testing within the scope of the engagement and help prepare for future troubleshooting. They should also be committed to clear documentation practices and ensure that all recordkeeping is up to defined standards.
Finally, fiber network contractors should have all of the necessary certifications in the field. Ask potential partners to furnish up-to-date records that prove they operate in full compliance with industry standards.
Maintaining clear and accurate documentation is incredibly important when designing a network.
Thorough documentation saves time, money, and resources during installation, as well as enables quick troubleshooting when future network issues arise. Often times, operators overlook the value of project documentation until it’s too late.
There are many network elements that should be documented. Every fiber route should be recorded and field technicians should know exactly how cables are oriented by the quality of the documentation.
For example, those who are documenting should list if cables are buried, how far underground they are, and on which side of the street they sit. Technicians should be able to quickly find faulty fibers, termination points, or splice cabinets that need repair.
Network documentation is also needed for day-to-day network management. If records are not updated in real time, it’s hard to evaluate how networks are actually operating and where capacity exists. When it comes to expansion efforts, operators can’t identify open fibers and convenient access points if that information is recorded as updates occur.
By establishing clear network documentation practices, operators always have access to the information they need to make strategically sound decisions around growth and maintenance.
Fiber operators maintain documentation in different ways. Some print all essential records, including CAD drawings and spreadsheets. Others use software or cloud-based platforms to make component information, test data, and utilization available to stakeholders across the organization. Overall, the storage approach depends highly on the tech capabilities and needs of the particular network management organization.
Operators also need to keep backups in various forms and locations so that they can quickly reinstate network documentation if something happens to the primary files. Additionally, updated network records should exist within a “restoration kit” that technicians use to address network issues.
Effective network design and installation are extremely important to the overall success of fiber development projects. However, managing networks on a day-to-day basis requires a different set of skills and resources.
Even with adequate redundancy and high-quality components, it is easy to lose sight of how well a network is performing, especially while it’s growing. Keeping track of every fiber, end user, and route can be overwhelming.
Fortunately, OSPInsight makes fiber network management easy. Our software-based solution is built to help you optimize your network’s performance over the long term and minimize downtime for end users.
We provide network operators with tools and resources to help them understand every facet of their networks, from cable utilization to route lengths and more. Easily find faults, plan splices, and build route schematics for field technicians within our intuitive platform. Analyze performance down to the individual fiber strand and produce insightful reports for key stakeholders.
For those who are just getting started, OSPInsight is also configured to support network design and planning. Estimate costs, create work orders, coordinate field teams, and design new segments, all within our powerful solution. OSPInsight is GIS agnostic, mobile ready, and integrates seamlessly with your CRM, OSS, and other applications.
Watch a free demo of OSPInsight today and learn how we can help you design, plan, and manage your next fiber network.