Extreme Makeover -- Cabinet Edition
When it comes time to add capacity required for the enhanced services today’s customers crave, hot-swapping existing cabinets and contents for all new components has been a common approach. But typical costs to perform a complete replacement are high.
Material and labor expenses rack up quickly, and a significant investment in time and money is required to resolve permitting, community restriction, and right-of-way issues before any work can begin. Perhaps even more importantly, existing and potential customers who are left waiting can be lost to a competitor while this time-consuming and expensive process unfolds.
It Starts With a Strong Foundation
To help reduce costs and increase speed to market, an increasing number of companies are choosing an innovative yet commonsense approach to meeting consumer demand: expanding and rehabbing existing cross-connect cabinets. Admittedly, the solution might seem counter-intuitive, given all the hype over fiber-to-the-home (FTTH). So, why use copper network for The Last Mile? The strategy is best summarized in the words of one longtime telecom insider: “Because it’s already there.”
Officials at many companies have come to realize that the existing copper infrastructure is a huge resource that needs to be optimized for broadband deployment.
Contrary to commonly held beliefs, the copper network can be leveraged to efficiently and reliably deliver services such as data access with faster Internet connections and transmission, video-on-demand, and video conferencing. Using the existing copper infrastructure increases the speed to market, and improves the likelihood of faster return on investment. The approach also allows companies to test demand for services without the need to build out an entirely new fiber infrastructure in hopes of snagging subscribers.
Given that strategic approach, pushing The Last Mile through copper elevates the importance and value of the existing cross-connect block and cabinet. Substantial time and cost savings are derived from expanding and retrofitting cabinets, rather than completing expensive cutovers that involve removing everything from the pad, positioning a new box with new blocks and other components, and splicing and jumpering of the new blocks.
Every expansion and rehab project presents unique challenges that require tailored solutions.
Figure 1. Original 1200 pair cross-connect with a 1500 pair expansion.
Figure 2. Original 2700 pair cabinet with a 1350 pair expansion front side and 3600 pair additional expansion rear side.
Figure 3. An original 1800 pair cross-connect with 300 pair replacement blocks and a 300 pair expansion.
Figure 4. An original 1800 pair cross-connect with a 1200 pair expansion.
Rehabbing Uncovers Efficiencies
Greatly simplified, rehabbing leaves the existing block in place, adds an expansion block where needed, and increases pair count to support the broadband offering. The cabinet’s internal compartment capacity is often increased by using components that reduce space requirements by up to 50 percent. Expansions can be accomplished within the original footprint by adding an extension that increases the cabinet’s height and interior space. (Extensions that increase space horizontally are also used as required and appropriate, given aesthetics and visibility considerations.) Often, little to no splicing or jumpering is needed to accomplish the expansion.
Designing and engineering the right solution takes experience and an understanding of technical and business challenges -- and how to overcome them. Given that some cabinets in the field can date back 30 or more years, expansion and rehab might not be feasible in all situations.
But according to Matt Gillette, executive vice president of Pearce Services, Inc. (PSI), the vast majority of cross-connect boxes are candidates for cost-saving rehab and expansion. Founded 25 years ago and based in Paso Robles, California, PSI is a 3M partner that specializes in the repair, replacement, expansion, relocation, and servicing of telephone cross-connect cabinets. Since 2007, the company has completed about 3,000 rehab and expansion projects a year.
Some cross-connects already have enough pair count out there to support the cabinet. “But it’s likely that 30 percent -- a third of them -- are cabinets that have to be expanded,” Gillette estimates.
Specialized knowledge and expertise are keys to attaining maximum cost savings, and to engineer cross-connect boxes efficiently and effectively. It’s also important that the entire solution be planned and engineered properly to provide both efficiency and effectiveness.
There are 4 considerations service providers must review prior to executing such a feat:
Rehab Consideration #1: Technical Perspective. The challenge is to deploy broadband service applications over a network designed for POTS. The quality of the existing premises network must be evaluated as well as the condition of the pad and its size. Factors that could impact service should also be scrutinized. These include the distance from the DSLAM, the presence of half-tap splices, the condition of embedded cable, and other electronics on the line.
Rehab Consideration #2: Permitting Process. Given the related costs to permitting, it’s important to understand the ordinances and the tolerance level of the municipality in which the project will take place. The goal in all instances is to keep the cabinet’s footprint virtually unchanged. Know that in some municipalities, digging up the old pad and pouring new larger concrete runs the risk of requiring permits. However, keeping to the same footprint and using the existing pad or otherwise very minimal concrete work is generally considered to be repair work, which doesn’t normally mean going through the permitting process. Most experts agree that checking with permitting authorities first is advisable.
Rehab Consideration #3: Aesthetics and Visibility. These are key when evaluating a cabinet for possible rehab and expansion. The smallest possible box should be used, and close attention should be paid to issues related to viewshed, traffic, and the possibility that the expansion project’s design might be perceived by community members (including customers and prospective customers) to be an eyesore, obstacle, or exacerbation of an already messy “cabinet farm”.
Rehab Consideration #4: Business Challenges. These should also be reviewed, paying close attention to the cost-benefit of rehab versus replacement, and the speed with which the solution can be designed, engineered, and completed. Additionally, municipal and community regulations must be thoroughly reviewed, with the understanding that, even within a single city, individual community restrictions may differ dramatically.
Trendy and Smart
The move to cross-connect expansion and rehab is a new trend that has resulted from a shift in culture, driven by the need to keep capital expenditures down while meeting rapidly growing customer demand. Previously, companies wanted entirely new buildouts, including new cabinets and blocks. Engineers have found that a hot-swap or a new cabinet installation aren’t the only options available. The older blocks that have reliably served customers and the telecom industry for many years are still viable. Moreover, many companies today are demonstrating that copper can handle and deliver today’s enhanced applications. Rehabbing and expanding cross-connect cabinets and leveraging previous investments in the copper network is already paying off for many companies.
Many Telco engineers are unaware that this solution is even a possibility. When they discover that rehabbing the existing copper infrastructure is a viable option, engineers often say they wish they had learned about the solution earlier. Other benefits aside, the potential for substantial cost savings is a big motivator for Telcos looking for ways to expand broadband services to their customer base.
As for cost savings, Gillette says his company saves customers “hundreds of thousands of dollars every week” by rehabbing rather than hot-swapping cabinets. He adds that one customer, a major Telco, has realized a savings of $9 million per year for the past 4 years.
Innovative approaches that extend the value of the copper network, along with new products specifically suited to cabinet expansions and rehabs, are helping Telcos realize more efficiency and cost effectiveness in operations as well as capital expenditures. Expansion cross-connect solutions enable network operators to focus broadband investment toward services that increase revenue in the fastest and least expensive way.
Rob Mertz is OSP Market Development Manager, 3M Communication Markets Division. He has more than 30 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, with expertise in fiber and copper networks as well as OSP. For more information, email Mertz at email@example.com or visit 3M.com/telecom. For more information about Pearce Services, Inc. (PSI), visit http://www.psixbox.com/.
Move That Cabinet!
The Reveal: Key Benefits of Cabinet Rehab
More and more Telcos are adding capacity for advanced services by expanding and rehabilitating existing cabinets rather than hot-swapping. Here are just a few of the reasons why this innovative solution is growing in popularity.
• Significant cost savings.
• Materials cost is about a third of the cost of a complete cabinet hot-swap.
• Requires far fewer labor hours and virtually no splicing or jumpering compared to hot-swap.
• Utilizes existing footprint, virtually eliminating possible right-of-way and permitting issues and their related costs.
• Uses existing copper network for The Last Mile.
• Accelerates time to market.
• Virtually no interruption in service.
• Customer friendly: uses existing copper network; no digging up yards for new cabling.
• Can reduce space requirements by up to 50% to allow for more pairs.
• Rehab/expansion-specific cabinets, expansion blocks, add-on terminals, connectors, and other accessories ensure quality and a neat-and-tidy appearance inside and out.
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