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Latin American operators accelerate full-fiber deployment with unique FTTH model

2020.02.17 By Zhao Maiqing, former CEO, China Telecom Sichuan

Copper networks have provided long-term returns for Latin American operators, but with bandwidth requirements increasing and the efficiency of copper coverage falling, the copper lifecycle is coming to an end. Latin American operators were quick to set out strategies to build full-fiber network infrastructure, developing a unique Latin American FTTH development model.

Latin American

Full-fiber networks are essential for global operators to build competitiveness with full-service operations. In Latin America, operators have been pioneers in setting out a development path towards full-fiber networks.

After two years of developing fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) services, the number of FTTH users in Latin America continues to grow at a rapid rate. Data shows that 9.18 million FTTH nodes were built across the region as a whole in 2019, a 29-percent year-on-year increase, and the number of new FTTH users was 5.27 million, a year-on-year growth of 39 percent.

The biggest challenge: ODN networks

As is the case with leading operators worldwide, IPTV and 4K services have been key drivers of service development for Latin American operators. With the swift increase in FTTH node construction in the region, user churn for copper and cable broadband has also increased. More providers are realizing that replacing copper cable networks with full-fiber networks is critical for attracting new users, slashing operating costs, enhancing maintenance efficiency, and accelerating the construction of full-fiber networks.

However, with the acceleration of FTTH construction in recent years, Latin American operators have discovered that the pace of ODN network infrastructure construction, which accounts for about 70 percent of FTTH investment, has seriously hindered FTTH development. The complexity of ODN planning, high construction costs, long cycles, and difficult O&M are the core challenges facing operators in the region wanting to drive forward full-fiber strategies.

First, manual ODN network planning and design makes it difficult to cope with diverse network environments, including various scenarios such as CBDs, urban, and rural, or guarantee optimal investment efficiency. Moreover, it delivers uneven quality and low efficiency, only allowing for 500 lines of HLD (high-level design) or 100 lines of LLD (low-level design) per person-day on average.

Second, ODN construction requires a large number of highly-skilled workers and specialized equipment. For example, to install a fiber access terminal (FAT), installation involves over 20 processes, including fiber optic cable and loose tube peeling, fiber removal, splicing, and sealing, taking two technicians 1.5 to 2 hours. As a result, single-core optical fiber splicing can cost  US$10 or more.

Finally, due to a lack of ODN resource management tools, Latin American operators generally take a week or more to roll out and troubleshoot FTTH services, which impacts the growth of FTTH broadband services.

Therefore, Latin American operators have been seeking end-to-end solutions for ODN planning, construction, installation, and O&M.

DQ ODN (Digitalized QuickODN)

Huawei and a number of Latin American operators have jointly launched the DQ ODN solution based on business needs and local service development requirements to help these operators build ODN networks efficiently.

In terms of network planning and design, Huawei adopts a fully digital approach supported by intelligent analysis and rich experience models. Using integrated tools and platforms, such as SmartCapex and uNetBuilder, Huawei helps customers locate the best value areas, design optimum paths, and efficiently integrate deployment to help them achieve their business goals. Huawei’s automatic network design tool leverages intelligent algorithms, such as neural networks, to quickly find the best design-balancing device location, route to the user, and coverage area. This can help a skilled engineer boost daily design output tenfold.

In terms of network construction, unequal ratio pre-connection is one of the solutions Huawei and Latin American operators have developed. The solution removes the need for any splicing throughout the ODN construction process, dramatically improving network deployment efficiency.

In Latin America, the conventional splicing solution requires a 12/24-core distribution cable, with optical cables stripped and spliced at each FAT. The boxes and fiber optic cables are installed sequentially. Not only is heavy equipment required to lay the fiber optic cable, the technical requirements and serial deployment for FAT installation greatly impact deployment efficiency.

With the unequal ratio pre-connecting solution, FATs are connected by a pre-connected single-core fiber optic cable, with the box completely decoupled from the optical cable. This supports parallel deployment, the pre-connections reduce technical requirements, and laying single-core fiber optic cables eliminates reliance on heavy equipment. Based on one Latin American operator’s experience, the unequal ratio pre-connection solution can help slash TCO by 25 percent and TTM by 30 percent.

Since Huawei launched the DQ ODN solution in 2019, it has been rolled out across Latin America, garnering high praise from local operators and helping them complete the construction of approximately 1 million FTTH lines.

Accelerating digital innovation in ODN networks

With the number of FTTH nodes built by Latin American operators constantly rising and with changes to users, both churn and new customers, network resource management problems relating to ODN resources due to paper transfers, manual inputting, and de-installation without disconnection have become increasingly prominent, leading to huge financial waste. Data shows that over 5 years, resource inaccuracy leads to between 20 and 30 percent of sunk ODN resources for operators worldwide. Low resource accuracy is also one of the main factors behind troubleshooting difficulties and slow service provisioning faced by operators.

Latin American operators and Huawei continue to carry out joint innovation on ODN networks and explore solutions for the management problem of dumb ODN resources through ODN digitalization. Huawei launched a lightweight digital ODN solution in 2019 that uses AI and image recognition technology. The solution supports the automatic collection of ODN equipment and GIS information during the network construction phase and the automatic creation of the physical topology of nodes during the service provisioning phase, boosting the long-term accuracy of ODN resources to 100 percent.

In 2020, Huawei will also enhance the digital capability of the DQ ODN solution to enable end-to-end visualized management of dumb ODN resources through technological innovation, supporting accurate resource management, precise troubleshooting, and rapid service provisioning. The solution will protect operator investment and cut OPEX.

Accurate resource management: During network construction, equipment GIS and topology are automatically collected and uploaded using image recognition, all nodes are automatically accepted remotely without the need for repeated site visits, and all networking resources are accurate. During service provisioning, the logical topology among equipment ports, the ONT, and users is automatically generated, and updated in real time. The usage of ports is clearly visible, with 100 percent long-term accuracy.

Precise troubleshooting: Using big data and AI algorithms, end-to-end ODN faults are easily diagnosed. The faults can be demarcated in minutes, located to a precision of meters, and closed within six hours.

Rapid service provisioning: The digitalized ODN resource foundation and Huawei’s rapid service provisioning system APS Cloud are interconnected with the data and connected to operators' resource management systems. This supports one-stop service handling and one-click device activation, without the need for repeated site visits for checking resources. The success rate of service provisioning with one visit is 100 percent, and the average service provisioning cycle is less than three days.

In Latin America, major operators are racing to push forward their full-fiber strategies and continue to increase FTTH investment. Looking ahead, Huawei and Latin  American operators’ continued innovation in basic fiber networks will decrease ODN network construction and O&M costs further, and bring ultimate broadband service experiences to Latin American fiber broadband users. 

At the same time, Latin American operators and Huawei’s achievements in full-fiber networks will help operators globally build better basic fiber networks for the gigabit era and enable the development of the global gigabit fiber broadband industry.

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