FTTP to 650K Customers? No Problem.
Based in Atlantic Canada, Bell Aliant is the largest fiber optic service provider in Canada, with a goal to offer Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) to more than 650,000 customers by the end of 2012. Bell Aliant was the first service provider in the country to complete an entire city and offer a 100% fiber optic network directly to customer’s homes.
Across the industry FTTP technology is known as “the future of connectivity”. This technology is superior because it uses light to carry Internet transmissions and television signals at rates that are simply not achievable through telephone or cable wires. Congestion is alleviated, enabling transmission speeds of over 200 megabytes per second, so that customers can enjoy some of the fastest download and upload speeds available.
Unfortunately, while FTTP is a future-proof technology, all providers wishing to employ it face a great obstacle. FTTP technology can be cost-prohibitive and take years to install. In some cases, telecommunications providers have spent $1,000-$1,500 per subscriber to make the service available.
When Bell Aliant first began to roll out its FTTP service known as FiberOP™ in 2009, our company found itself restricted by time-consuming data collection processes in terms of engineering their build and deployment. The previous process used required the information to pass through multiple entry points. By the time surveys were completed and manual measurements were performed, it could take 5 employees up to 2 weeks to prepare field data for the verification stage.
With a goal to accelerate the roll-out and cost effectively expand its FiberOP™ digital services over the next 3 years, Bell Aliant quickly recognized a need to automate the design and data collection process.
Our team has the aggressive goal to reaching 650,000 premises over that period. This included designing approximately 2,400 fiber-serving areas (FSAs). The network data collection and analysis process we used at that time was not scalable to meet our 3-year build schedule. Yet, cost-containment initiatives meant taking on additional staff was not an option. We needed to develop and implement a tool that could automate tasks with a goal to reduce manual design efforts by 25%.
Accelerating FTTP Rollout Through Automation
What Bell Aliant needed was a sophisticated database so spatial information pertaining to a multi-technology infrastructure could be centrally stored and accessed. The company also needed real-time, accurate network views so that users could get a snapshot of equipment, capacity, available bandwidth, and demographic and customer information in a single view. We also required up-to-date network views that were not only available to engineers but to other stakeholders across the organization such as field crews, management, marketing, customer service, and finance.
After an initial trial period, our team selected Telcordia’s Network Engineer along with Design Assistant, a GIS-based plan-to-provision solution that enables customized design wizards to be developed in accordance with an organization’s unique engineering rules.
Built on Esri’s ArcGIS platform, Network Engineer utilizes a sophisticated database so that spatial information pertaining to a multi-technology infrastructure can be centrally stored and accessed.
Since this was the first time that Bell Aliant had worked with a GIS-based solution, we collaborated with Telcordia and Esri Canada’s Professional Services team to identify requirements, undergo training on the new technology, and create custom design wizards. We also decided to use an advanced fiber optic cable system with factory-terminated network access points along the length of the cable. This cable can be spliced at the factory, resulting in reducing construction labor in the field by 50%.
The widespread roll-out of the FTTP service represents a key component to future-proofing our business because it allows us to offer the fastest, Triple Play broadband service to a wider customer-base. By automating manual design processes, we’ve been able to reduce costs, expand design capacity, and deliver our services to an increased number of residents in a significantly shorter timeframe.
Making It Mobile
To further contain costs, our company collaborated with municipal governments and regional electric utilities to leverage existing GIS data layers such as land parcels, civil infrastructure, streets, and utility rights-of-way that were migrated into Network Engineer. Web-based forms were developed that make it easy for our team to access and edit this data remotely. Data is collected using ArcGIS for Mobile on Trimble devices, quality checked, and automatically updated to the ArcGIS for Server geodatabase.
Network Engineer and Design Assistant are used for everything from planning, designing, and building the FTTP network. Since implemented, data quality has improved by an overall 25%. We have also been able to transition residential data from more than 500 separate databases into a single, unified common operational picture that provides access to equipment, network components, customer information, and service locations for the FiberOP™ Network.
Now, when a customer calls to inquire about their service, a single database can be referenced immediately to verify the customer’s service area. Since the data can be accessed remotely, engineers located in different provinces throughout Atlantic Canada can easily share data.
The solution proved so successful that it was made available to 156,000 additional premises in the first 6 months of 2011 alone, and FSA design times were reduced by 40%.
Pole Audits to Reduce OpEX
In 2011, our company also conducted an audit of some 305,000 poles located across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Using Trimble devices equipped with ArcGIS Mobile, we were able to document attachments belonging to various service providers and synch the information back to the database for instant updates. Customized Web forms ensured that the data collection process was consistent among the 75 field crew dispatched across 3 provinces. They were also able to easily share data with one another regardless of geographic location.
Our data collection process used to be paper-driven and the collected information would be transcribed 3 separate times. Through mobile technology, we’ve eliminated the margin for error, and our data integrity has improved significantly. This not only ensures that we bill the right customer, but also provides us with a more accurate snapshot of our assets across Atlantic Canada.
In addition to pole attributes, field crews leveraged built-in GPS functionality to capture the distance between poles and the length of various Transmedia networks. Collectors identify the ownership and, using Web Forms, record this information to ensure that the correct organization is billed.
Collected data is also used to track the number of poles that are placed each year, and to monitor asset investments. Asset information that used to take days to search can now be accessed in a matter of seconds.
Storing data in a central repository delivers a marked improvement in the availability, quality, and use of information across the enterprise -- from engineering to customer qualification to service assurance. Over the next few years, we will continue to adapt our operational model to further increase the value of our information resources.
Shelley Scott has been employed with Bell Aliant for 24 years. She started out as a Network Technician, and after 10 years, moved into the role of Network Provisioning Manager to support the planning and implementation of central office equipment. She has been involved with productivity-saving initiatives that range from simple process changes to the development of a resource management application. Her work with GIS began in 2009 with the FiberOP™ project. For more information, visit www.aliant.ca.
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