It’s one of those things we tend not to think about until stuck in traffic on a main road where police are directing us around our local telco folks digging up the street around an “incident” – typically a fiber-optic cable that has been degraded, usually because it has been cut by somebody else digging where they were not supposed to dig.
Interestingly, such has been the case outside my residence recently. It got me thinking: how do they find fiber problems, particularly if the cause of a major service interruption is not the result of a backhoe gone wild?
It turns out that the current state of the art for pinpointing fiber network challenges is costly, complex and not as precise in terms of pinpointing the exact location of a problem as you might think. And while this is not likely to generate major headlines on business pages around the world, the announcement by Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) of its new network monitoring solution, which uses a technique called Optical Time Domain Reflectometry (OTDR), deserves recognition.
More than just a reflection of fiber realities
As noted in announcement of the new capability, trialed with two customers and will be available in early 2013, the new OTDR capability developed by Bell Labs (News - Alert) plugs into a network’s existing fiber access nodes and is integrated with the Motive Network Analyzer, Alcatel-Lucent’s remote management solution for broadband access optical terminal multiplex (OTM) networks. It obviates the need for very costly external OTDR solutions, and as the name implies, it uses continuous pulsing with measurements of the corresponding reflections to provide a comprehensive and continuous view of PON networks.
What it means is:
- Continuously monitors cuts and disconnects from the serving office all the way to the 2nd splitter in a fiber transport network – the longest part of the network.
- Validates fiber connections during network roll-outs, particularly the work of third-party contractors.
- Localizes fiber problems quickly.
- Enables the monitoring and maintenance of a fiber network, not just reactively but proactively, meaning faster meantime to restoration (MTR) and solving potential problems before they become major service outages.
Alcatel-Lucent has a nice simple graphic that tells the story.
Image via Alcatel-Lucent
Erik M. Keith, Principal Analyst of Fixed Access Infrastructure at Current Analysis (News - Alert), said, “Technologies such as Alcatel-Lucent’s Embedded OTDR solution are fundamental tools that give service providers a better understanding of what is happening in their fiber access networks. Knowing where a problem occurs allows service providers to send technicians to the right place, speed up problem resolution, and provide customers with a better service experience. As such, this solution is a key enabler for protecting service providers’ fiber assets and revenues.”
Dave Geary, head of Alcatel-Lucent’s Wireline activities, said, “We have embedded OTDR test functionality into our Intelligent Services Access Manager (ISAM) to make it a very cost-effective solution. Moreover, by integrating OTDR in our Motive Network Analyzer where it is combined with a number of complementary technologies, we can provide a comprehensive and end-to-end view of service providers’ fiber networks. By keeping the network fully operational, cash flow is maintained and new services can be introduced smoothly, which is an important benefit for any service provider. This makes for a unique value proposition.”
“Despite all of the sizzle about wireless, there are still major fiber deployments going on around the world, and a lot of fiber is already in the ground,” said Stefaan Vanhastel, director for Wireline Networks at Alcatel-Lucent, in speaking to TMCnet about the new capabilities. “To that end, the ability to embed OTDR will allow operators enhanced visibility into the major critical links in their fiber networks where major outages could occur such as on important urban area transport routes and mobile backhaul connections. While the current solution is to embed OTDR into access nodes in the future, the goal is to add to every transceiver to watch every line.”
He also explained that the new solution allows for pinpointing of problems to within 10 years – a significant improvement over current capabilities. Cost reductions that have already been observed are also exponential, even in the short term, and will be very significant over the fiber network’s lifecycle.
The OTDR being embedded directly in the ‘n’ transceivers also reduces cost as there is no need to replace SSPs. As noted, this is a plugable module and all that is needed is the latest software, and the reflections have been shown to be measurable for up to 15 KM.
In addition, the integration with the Motive Network Analyzer, along with links to geographical information systems, means the generation of a veritable treasure trove of information for not just being alerted to faults, but being proactive on network maintenance.
Vanhastel explained the value proposition for the new OTDR solutions as having three components:
- Protecting revenue: This is achieved by keeping services on and revenue flowing predictably, assuring smooth new services introductions, and reducing churn by increasing customer satisfaction.
- Fixing problems proactively: Done by avoiding failures through early detection, validating the network before connecting to customers, and constant assessments of network performance.
- Reducing CapEx and OpEx: Facilitating fewer truck rolls, eliminating the purchase and maintenance of external OTDR equipment and the training that goes with it, and via the integration with other important network monitoring tools.
This is obviously a capability that goes well with green field fiber deployments. That said, the case can also be made that on critical fiber routes, and particularly those all important mobile backhaul ones, there can never be too much information for network engineers.
It will be interesting to see which customers and which parts of the world are early adopters.
Edited by Braden Becker