The Disaster of Placing FTTN Triple Play Service on a Trashed Copper Infrastructure
Telephone companies are diving into the bandwidth business in droves offering The Triple Play by placing fiber-to-the-node (FTTN) and using the copper infrastructure for the final link to the customer. Sadly, much of the copper infrastructure is in complete disarray and needs to be brought up to quality standards that are far more stringent than what was required for a Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).
I have been training field technicians on the proactive process of provisioning and maintaining the copper infrastructure for more than 40 years. I have trained field technicians in provisioning and maintaining the copper infrastructure for The Triple Play for the last 12 years in the United States, Canada, South America, and the Pacific Rim, Guam, and Saipan.
Access equipment makers for FTTN are the individual Telco’s choice and I have worked with most of the vendor’s equipment. It doesn’t matter which vendor the telco picks for FTTN, the copper infrastructure to the end user is basically the same and it must be of the highest quality. For those few companies who maintained copper over the many years, they can provide Triple Play. For those who haven’t invested in ongoing proactive maintenance, you have years and years and years of wearing down your cable and, unlike PSTN, if you don’t fix it right, it simply won’t support Triple Play.
The Role of Proactive Maintenance
Proactive maintenance requires finding the root cause of any cable trouble and then repairing or replacing faulted sections of telephone cables. Routine maintenance keeps terminals and pedestals in good shape and provides quality service for all customers involved. It drastically reduces truck rolls, and with fuel exceeding $4.00 a gallon (at the time of this writing) proactive maintenance shows a huge return on investment.
With deregulation in the 1980s, the proactive process started to slip. The first cuts took place in the work force. When early retirement was offered and taken, intellectual property went with it. Those quality proactive managers went to the competition.
Next, cables took a hit. Cables that should have been replaced were ignored, which forced field technicians to find other “good” pairs in the cable. This cut-to-clear policy destroyed good terminals and pedestals to a point where there are no good circuits left that service can be transferred to. Insulation is falling off of the cable pairs, cable bonds are missing, and splices are failing.
Telephone companies are on a downhill slide and customers are leaving in droves mainly because the copper infrastructure is in shambles. These same telcos are placing FTTN and attempting to use existing copper to the customer for The Last Mile.
Today’s management and craft personnel are paying for the sins of the past where prior managers looking for numbers ignored proactive maintenance and forced field technicians to restore service by any means possible. Technicians driven by jobs-in-eight mentalities were judged by the number of jobs that could be completed in an 8-hour day. This is the main reason the copper infrastructure is in such bad shape. Quality went by the wayside.
Recognizing that a quality copper infrastructure is necessary for The Triple Play, management teams are pulling field technicians from the demand load, and those field technicians are grooming that last copper infrastructure in preparation for The Triple Play. Wet sections are identified and replaced, wet splices and sheath damage are located and repaired, cables are bonded and grounded to the distribution power infrastructure, and terminals and pedestals are being repaired.
Proactive Maintenance Approach
To be proactive in a timely manner requires a quality multifunctional test set with a myriad of features.
The first requirement is a quality digital multimeter to identify problems that affect bandwidth. The longitudinal balance feature is a must for both narrowband and wideband testing. Just because a cable pair passes the narrowband test does not mean that the pair can effectively pass high frequencies. A wideband test is in order.
Longitudinal balance failures are usually because there is a DC type fault on the pair such as crossed battery, a ring or tip ground, a capacitive unbalance, or series resistance. Split cable pairs will pass the longitudinal balance test, but bandwidth circuits are affected. Phase power and lightning will change the impedance of the pair, and are most difficult to identify unless the cable is destroyed.
Water in air core Plastic Insulated Conductors (PIC) drastically affects the impedance and bandwidth circuits will not properly function through water. Bandwidth customers are the first to leave, and by the time water is identified as the root cause it is also affecting POTS customers. These customers will leave before the water soaked cables can be replaced.
To pinpoint the root cause(s) the test set must have a quality resistance bridge, an open meter and a Time Domain Reflectometer (TDR). The field technician must know how to use them and interpret the test results. In buried cables, a good cable locator and an earth gradient device is a must.
When you spend from $6,000 to $15,000 for a Triple Play test set, make sure that the field technician is trained in all aspects of provisioning and maintaining that copper, and then -- and only then -- will you be successful in the Triple Play arena.
What does your cable look like? Is your management encouraging you to do the best job or is it just handing out band-aids? Share your challenges and solutions with the men and women in your craft. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 831.818.3930.