When Outside Plant Goes Inside
When speaking about outside plant (OSP), the tendency is to think of all the miles of cable, fiber and copper, poles, handholes, manholes, closures, cabinets, and network interface devices (NIDs) from the central office (CO) to the subscriber’s location. Prior to divestiture, one company owned it all, and customers even rented their phones from the telephone company. Then, the landscape of providing telephone service changed dramatically, and the telephone company brought service to a demarcation point, which is normally a NID or a building entrance terminal. With the introduction of broadband services, the traditional phone company has found its way back into your house once again.
The Last Mile
Service providers bring broadband services to The Last Mile either by fiber or twisted pair digital subscriber line (DSL). Ethernet is also used as very short-haul technology for serving cell sites, and it may see more use in the OSP. But what about The Last 100 Feet? This is as critical as any part of the network -- even more so in many ways. Service providers spend billions of dollars bringing service to our door, but the key question is whether consumers will let them in? Acquiring that last 100 feet, whether in a single-family residence or a multi-dwelling unit (MDU), poses some unique challenges and opportunities.
In DSL-based technology, customers can be served directly from the CO if the loop lengths are short. In most cases, fiber is brought to a cabinet- or pedestal-based optical network unit (ONU), and then the existing copper pairs are used to provide service to the customer. An intelligent network interface device (iNID) is placed at the customer residence.
In single family dwellings, this is a fairly simple procedure that requires replacing the existing NID or placing the iNID near the existing NID and using the customer’s existing wiring (twisted pair, coax, and Category 5 cable) to provide service into the home. But in an MDU environment this creates various challenges.
The first challenge involves aesthetics. Once in the building or living unit, the solution must not only work, but it must also be visually pleasing. Therefore, the aesthetics of any FTTH solution are critical. People do not like the green or gray telephone company boxes on the side of their home, and they may have a greater issue with having 2 boxes in or near their living quarters.
Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployments are a bit more complicated because there is a need to set up an ONU along with remote power and back-up batteries. Unfortunately, those “boxes” may be more visible than some customers may like.
As you can imagine, aesthetics are especially important in high-priced residential areas. There’s no doubt that cheap-looking or low-quality solutions won’t be tolerated.
The Challenges of Servicing MDUs
Servicing MDUs presents other serious challenges. MDUs are an important segment of the market, comprising up to 25% to 30% of the customer base. In MDU applications, inside wire may not support the higher level of service required, and internal building systems, such as door bells, intercoms, and security cameras, need to be accommodated.
Each and every building is different, so it can be difficult to engineer a generic solution. With building owners, building management, and co-op boards to deal with, negotiations to gain access into the building could also be a challenge. In addition, restrictions may be placed on the service provider, or building owners or management may request to share in the revenue. Finally, there will be the requirement of meeting all the local building electrical and building codes.
Then, there’s the faltering economy and the high vacancy rate of MDU properties that has followed. This may change the business model for MDU deployments, especially for FTTH applications that have significant equipment costs at the subscriber location. Providers also must take into account the transient nature of apartment rental customers. As people move in or out there could be more stranded equipment and investment. This residential churn has to be taken into account when determining service take rates.
Let Us In, Please!
If service providers spend all this money to get service to the door, will they be let in? Clearly, service providers will spend a lot of money to get service to the door, and then send technicians to install service. With that amount of investment, it is important not to get turned away at the door by the customer.
Network designs often require approval from property owners and/or Homeowners Associations. In an apartment, this situation is magnified. Tenants can turn service providers away if the solution for connecting service disrupts the look of the home. In this case, addressing cable slack storage becomes critical.
The installation must be done quickly with minimal invasiveness and disruption to the customer. This means the technician must get in and out fast. Use of products that are connectorized will reduce the need for splicing and will reduce installation time and mess.
For MDUs, plug-and-play products are key, and new products are needed for the MDU application. Products designed, built, and used for an outdoor application do not work in an indoor environment. Telcordia generic requirements for OSP equipment examine severe impacts and exposure to dust and wind-driven rain, which leads to robust products; however, these products are not needed for an indoor application.
Figure 1. MDU Application.
In existing buildings, space is often at a premium so the wiring with fiber must be small. One way to make products smaller is by using an alternate media type. For use in MDU hallways, smaller cable is needed and uses 900um tight-buffered bend-insensitive fiber, which is factory installed inside an extruded duct. This allows these products to be much smaller and more discrete than traditional square latch moldings, which are typically stuffed with larger 3- or 5-mm jacketed drop cables. As an example, Figure 1 shows an innovative solution: the beauty is obvious by how difficult it is to notice in the picture.
Also, in older buildings, installing new high-performance cables takes time and money. Solutions that address both of these pain points are likely to be accepted. These solutions require the use of products that enable multiple fiber drops to be installed at the same time the cable pathway is placed. This potentially eliminates a step in the construction process and allows all fiber drops on a single floor to be placed simultaneously.
Traditional cable installation methods such as the stapling of ultra-bend insensitive rugged drop cables to apartment walls can destroy the aesthetic investment a tenant has made to his or her home. What’s more, concrete surfaces do not adapt well to stapling cables to walls. A new cable pathway solution is to use adhesive to adhere the pathway to the wall, which causes less property damage, and is easier, quicker, and quieter to install.
And don’t forget: When equipment is being installed in a customer residence, the National Electrical Code and other safety requirements must be considered.
Testing Can Help
The MDU or customer premises application is becoming a critical new piece of the OSP network, with new requirements, installation techniques, and new products to be considered. These new products will require new testing and analysis to meet the needs of service providers and subscribers. And in today’s competitive environment, products and associated requirements need to evolve quickly.
Telcordia has been working with carriers and suppliers to develop comprehensive, detailed, and efficient test programs. It is critical that this new equipment including desktop ONUs, femtocells, and LTE devices does not interfere with equipment already in the home such as set-top boxes. For a success in the MDU environment, independent and comprehensive product analysis is critical before deployment and should include the review of new MDU product development, using and converting existing OSP products to an MDU application.
Ernie Gallo is Telcordia’s Project Manager for Product Development in the area of network integrity solutions addressing the physical layer of the networks providing voice, video, and data telecommunications service. Ernie has more than 30 years of experience, and has received awards from the FCC, ATIS and IEEE for his work. Contact Ernie via firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.telcordia.com.
What’s your take on this subject? Leave a comment and get the conversation going.
Sidebar: Tablets and TV: No Bandwidth Challenges There
Seventy percent (70%) of tablet owners use their devices while watching TV, according to Q1 2011 data from The Nielsen Company. Another 57% use them while lying in bed. (Editor’s note: And while the majority of consumers do not currently have Internet-enabled TVs, what kind of bandwidth chaos will that bring when tablets and Internet TV collide?)
Other relatively popular multitasking uses of tablets include using them with friends/family (44%), while waiting for something (42%), and other (35%). Thankfully, there is a significant drop in multitasking usage for activities such as while in the bathroom (25%) and attending a meeting or class (24%).
Perhaps reflecting their easier portability, smartphones are used at a higher percentage for many multitasking uses than tablets. While only 68% of smartphone owners use them while watching TV, higher percentages use them while waiting for something (59%), with friends/family (58%), other (50%), and commuting (47% compared to 20%). The percentage of smartphone owners who use them while lying in bed is slightly lower (51%).
Tablet owners said close to one-third (almost 30%) of their time spent with their device was while watching TV, compared to 21% lying in bed. Meanwhile, smartphone owners say that 20% of the time they use their smartphones is while watching TV, compared to 11% lying in bed.
And how are you going to deliver all that bandwidth?
See the report at: http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobile/in-the-u-s-tablets-are-tv-buddies-while-ereaders-make-great-bedfellows/
Sidebar: Text Message for YOU!
(MMGI) Mobile Messaging Growth Impressive
Every little bit of bandwidth counts. Is your network ready?
At the end of 2010, total worldwide mobile subscribers stood at nearly 5.3 billion. This subscriber base is projected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 6.9 percent between 2010 and 2015, and is expected to reach nearly 7.4 billion by the end of 2015.
The worldwide mobile messaging market was worth USD 179.2 billion in 2010. This number is forecast to rise to USD 209.8 billion in 2011, and on to USD 334.7 billion by the end of 2015, at a CAGR of 13.3 percent between 2010 and 2015.
Source: Portio Research, www.portioresearch.com