Fiber Optic Network Management: The Ultimate Guide

We live in an incredible age of digital information. Fiber networks are the infrastructure that provides the transportation for all of the data we consume. Fiber is increasingly in demand as it provides (by far) the best bandwidth capabilities.

It’s likely that you, or the company you represent, has invested hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars planning, designing, and building a network. If not, you may be deciding whether or not to do so.  Or, maybe you’re just curious about the incredible web of fiber that is being spun around the world. Either way, this guide will help you better understand what it means to manage a fiber optic network, and learn about the one tool that is required to successfully do it.

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Fiber Optic Network Management is the tasks required to plan, design, build, operate, and analyze a fiber optic network. With a well functioning management system, a network operator can install fiber faster, sell more services, reduce costs, and retain more customers.

In the past, fiber optic networks were difficult to manage. The lack of information, or rather the lack of organized, easily accessible information was a big problem.  The most important document use to be a wall sized printed map of the cables and other network elements that made up the network. Along with that were filing cabinets full of CAD drawings and splicing information.  Network operators would need hours to answer even simple questions about their network. For example, a network operator would have to pull drawings together and open multiple spreadsheets just to determine the route a single fiber would take in the network.  If they were trying to track down a fiber break, good luck.

As-Built

How can you plan a network if you don’t know where the current network is?  Even if you know where the cable is, what fibers within those cables have services traveling across them?  Are there spare innerduct in the conduit you want to access? How many fibers will need to be available in order to add new services?  How many wavelengths are on any given fiber? The information required to answer these and myriad other questions have got to be easily accessible in order to tame the growing beast that is a fiber optic network.  But it isn’t.

It would seem obvious that if fiber optic cable is buried in the dirt or hung on a pole, that someone would document that.  Of course there are drawings that were used to plan such installations, so there is a record as to how the job was supposed to be done.  But, how was it really done? Where was it really buried? Where was it really hung? And, when that information is known, where is it stored?  It seems so easy to track! But, this perception of simplicity is one of the difficulties in getting good documentation. The network is not overly complex, especially when the first ring is built.  It can be diagrammed with one color of marker on a whiteboard. So, documenting the network is not a priority. The mantra to “build at all costs” echos from trucks to utility trailers. Who cares about writing it all down, we can do that later.  It’s simple.

Well, it’s simple until it’s not.  By definition a network ties things together and the more things that get tied together the more complex the network becomes.  Until one day, somebody realizes that they need to add more customers but they aren’t sure if they have enough fiber to allocate.  By now, that whiteboard looks like a Kindergarten art project with colors from all parts of the rainbow. What is lacking is a system to keep things organized.  That’s why Fiber Network Management Systems were invented.

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WHAT IS A FIBER NETWORK MANAGEMENT SYSTEM?

Today, a standard Fiber Network Management System (FNMS), can put all of that information into a location intelligent relational database with a friendly front end map, making many tasks that used to take hours come down to a single mouse click.  Now, finding the route a fiber takes throughout a network is not just simple, it’s enlightening. And, finding the location of that broken fiber? Well, it doesn’t require luck anymore.

The FNMS is software that is the control center for your network assets, especially your fiber.  And, since the fiber is the most important asset a fiber network operator owns, the FNMS is the most important system a network operator will invest in.  

Control

You can think of an FNMS like a virtual model of your network. With this virtual model understanding the important questions about your network is easy. For example, without even running an optical time-domain reflectometer (OTDR) test, you can determine the number of fibers extending from one building to another. See below for common use cases for an FNMS.

With an FNMS, network operators can model their network configuration before anything is done on the ground. They can identify potential problems with a plan and make the necessary changes. Once the network is built the virtual model becomes an accurate representation of the network.

Edit aerial view wt Taper

An FNMS shows you what’s inside your cables. First, find the location or name of the cable you want to investigate. Then click on the cable to determine what fibers are available, where each fiber terminates, and which end-users are served by the fiber.

Edit MI Taper

FNMS adjusts as your network adjusts, meaning the relationships between objects in your database are updated automatically. You don’t need to worry about updating multiple splicing spreadsheets, or redrawing cables in CAD files. The database will adjust and will identify any problems that may have occurred.

Tracking the relationships in your database can be done at the map level. For example, you can draw the path a fiber takes in your network as shown below.

Fiber Route

An FNMS will allow you to view any type of document relating to your network. Use the FNMS to link digital photographs, hardware and equipment brochures, lease agreements, contracts, and CAD drawings, etc.

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WHAT CAN I USE A FIBER NETWORK MANAGEMENT SYSTEM FOR?

You can think about the use of a Fiber Network Management System in the context of the lifecycle of a fiber network. Having worked on hundreds of fiber networks over the last two decades, we’ve developed the following steps to understand the stage of a fiber network.

  • Planning and Design

  • Project Management

  • Operations Support

  • Network Analytics

Each stage in a fiber network project involves a number of tasks. You can use an FNMS to accomplish many of these.

  • Document the location of fiber cables.

  • View detailed splice information, splice trays and splice schematics.

  • Reserve individual fibers for certain customers.

  • Determine fibers in use and fibers leased to other providers.

  • Troubleshoot fiber breaks.

  • Ensure accurate fiber records.

  • Identify unused fiber.  

  • Record splicing records.

  • Provide capacity reports to stakeholders.

  • Determine the number of miles of cable in a tax zone.

  • Determine the number of miles of lit cable in a tax zone.

  • Find areas of your network that need preventative maintenance.

  • Estimate the cost to build.

  • Accurate planning for faster builds and less re-work.

  • Respond to sales inquiries faster.

  • And many more….

Fundamentally, an FNMS empowers you to know what is in your network. Click here to read more about the importance of knowing your network data. 

WHO NEEDS TO USE An FNMS?

Anyone who designs, builds, and operates a fiber optic network needs a Fiber Network Management System. Traditionally, we have seen network operators who run telecommunication companies, mines, universities, cities, utilities, transportation departments, and data centers.

People who run an FNMS have job titles like Network Operator, Network Technicians, OSP Specialist, OSP Engineer, and more. FNMS are used internally by engineering, sales, marketing and other administrators. Reports generated by an FNMS can go all the way up to the chain to the CEO.

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WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR IN An FNMS?

There are a few core parts of an FNMS we believe our essential:

  • Relational database
  • Geographical Information System
  • Data loss prevention
  • Intuitive user interface

The center of any FNMS should be a well planned, relational database. The database should have a relational nature to preserve the logical links between elements of your network. Many tools on the market meet this criteria. We recommend finding a tool with a database you can understand (this is your data after all). Some tools obfuscate table names, making it difficult for you to query the data directly. Find a tool that allows you to make sense of the data yourself if you need to.

Many elements of the network have important spatial information. Without a map, that spatial information will lose context and is essentially meaningless. For this reason, we recommend a stable Geographic Information System (GIS) as a core part of your FNMS.

A special note on GIS. More and more network operators are finding GIS as a critical piece of software to understand and plan their business. Choosing a GIS is an important business decision to make that can be thought of as independent from your FNMS. The two work together, but the best choice for an FNMS is one that can work well with any GIS system. You can make your GIS choice independent of your FNMS with an FNMS that is GIS agnostic.

Because your network data is a vital asset to your organization, we highly recommend finding an FNMS that prioritizes data loss prevention. Some tools in the market have been known to lose their customer’s data. Tools that promise a seamless multi-user environment are susceptible to data loss and so should be carefully vetted.

As a final criteria, we recommend finding an FNMS with an intuitive user interface. Entering data, querying a database, and planning new expansions in your network can be time consuming and detail oriented. The tools we find most appealing have put a lot of thought into the number of clicks it takes to perform basic tasks, effectively saving your organization significant time and money.

WHAT Are the top reasons organizations choose an FNMS?

There are many reasons to choose an FNMS. Some of the top reasons are explored in this blog post and summarized below. 

  • Organization – You’ve already spent the money to create your data … use it.
  • Engineering – Build the network with confidence when planning is precise.
  • Portability – Field technicians and engineers with data at their fingertips.
  • Sales & Marketing – Find the prospects, show the network.
  • Maintenance – A “stitch in time …”, you can’t fix what you can’t see.
  • Accounting & Taxation – What you don’t know will cost you … a lot.
  • Restoration – Can you say, “Service Level Agreement”?
  • Partnership – More than software, you’ve bought experience and dedication.
  • It Works – No doubt about it, this application will do what you need.
  • Savings – When it comes down to it, it is all, ultimately about money.

WHAT OPTIONS DO I HAVE FOR A GLOBAL INFORMATION SYSTEM (GIS)?

There are three popular GIS we see used for FNMS: ESRI, MapInfo, and QGIS. Each GIS system has its pros and cons and is worth considerable vetting. You can read more about our approach to GIS in this blog

 

A Fiber Network Management System will store, show, and provide easy reporting for the following:

  • Cable spatial information

  • Cable sequential markings

  • Slack loop location and measurements

  • Ductbank spatial information

  • Termination Ports

  • Splice Points

  • Splicing Information, splice trays, and splice schematics

SpliceGUI_Spreadsheet
 

There are three main steps to getting started with fiber optic management.

  1. Evaluate different FNMS software options.

  2. Migrate your network data to the FNMS database.

  3. Train your technicians.

The first step is to evaluate the different options available in the market. Obviously, we have a bias towards the FNMS we have created in OSPInsight. If you are interested in checking this out, click here to talk to an OSPInsight consultant

After choosing an FNMS, you’ll need to move your network data from its current location to the FNMS database. If your data is already stored in a relational database, we have built tools to make that easy to migrate within a relatively short amount of time. If your data is mostly in drawings and spreadsheets, we can help out there too. We have a data services team that can manually input your data into an FNMS database.

Most FNMS providers will over some sort of data migration. Make sure you discuss this as part of your purchase package.

Finally, you’ll need to train your network technicians on using the FNMS software. You’ll want to put processes in place to ensure data is kept up to date as you maintain your network going forward.

You can generate many reports with a Fiber Network Management System. A few of the critical reports, you’ll want to make sure your FNMS can run.

  • Route Detail - Run a route to find each object along the route and verify route accuracy.

  • Taper Report - Plot out future routes by seeing which ports and fibers are available.

  • Leased Fibers - Determine who is leasing each fiber.

  • Hardware / Materials - Lists all the hardware and material types in your network and gives length totals for fiber and cable sheath.

  • Work Order Summary - Status report of the work orders and information related to a work order.

  • Impact Report - Identify which routes will be impacted if a splice point were moved.

  • Cable Span Analysis - Reports overall fiber capacity for your entire network.

  • Network Statistics - Track the quantity of all your database objects over time. Often used for auditing purposes.

 

 

What are the best practices for keeping my database up to date? 

As with any data store, if you put garbage in your database you will get database out. A good FNMS will make it easy to keep your data up to date and identify when there are issues. There are a few specific practices we recommend as elaborated in this blog. 

1. Know where changes to the physical network are going to be made. 

2. Establish an internal owner of the database who has authority to demand updates from field crews and other personnel. 

3. Thoroughly train editors of the database to understand exactly how to do their job. 

4. After the data is input, use sample testing to confirm its accuracy. 

5. Provide regular reports to upper management, focusing on metrics of interest that reference the fiber optic network database. 

6. Monitor the performance and integrity of the data consistently and often. 

7. Train and encourage your internal teams to embrace the system and rely on its data. 

If you are looking for a better solution to managing your fiber, click below to schedule a demo of OSPInsight: 

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