Network design has always been expensive and time-consuming. When done manually, the labor and time spent planning and costing materials for a network project is crucial, especially as billions of dollars in federal and state subsidies for fiber deployments are in game. Network operators agree that “time is money” applies to the critical process of designing, building, expanding and upgrading today’s broadband networks today.
Using an automated design and optimization (ADO) approach enables network engineers to provide rapid design iterations for deployment optimization and to generate an accurate BOM. In contrast, the use of manual methods can often result in overestimated material costs for a project.
By accelerating network design through ADO, service providers can apply for federal and state funding sooner, putting them at the top rather than the bottom of the grant application pile. Once established virtually, the ADO digital network design is available for the life of the plant to provide a foundation for expansion of existing service areas and network upgrades as and when required. they become available.
ADO software offers significant advantages over manual methods in four ways, and these advantages accrue during the grant application process: time savings through faster design, improved design through cost savings time, saving time and money with automated material costing and providing a lifecycle model for the network.
Geospatial information tools are a starting point for planning and estimating fiber routes and costs, but lack the flexibility to evaluate different options with the click of a button. ADO can generate preliminary designs according to a service provider’s rules and equipment specifications, provide optimal fiber routing as needed, and integrate with existing plant engineering platforms if needed. This approach saves time and money compared to manual planning and design methods.
The ability to generate a design in days rather than weeks makes it possible to complete federal and state grant applications and generate the necessary supporting documents much faster.
Improve the design
Creating preliminary designs through ADO allows users to generate scenarios examining the use of different network architectures, elements, and coverage areas quickly and efficiently. Grant applicants can use the ADO’s initial digital design to explore ways to optimize network performance, reduce network capital costs, if any, and expand coverage areas for increase access and/or improve long-term operational financial sustainability.
Examining the impact of upgrading a network segment from GPON to XG-PON becomes a point-and-click process. Likewise, other network modifications and improvements can be quickly assessed for cost and time on a holistic basis. Since less time is spent on manual tracing and estimating on a slice of the network, more time can be invested in considering options for the best overall network design that fits the operational philosophy of a operator and current and future customer needs.
Depending on their approach and the types of grants they are applying for, Service Provider Grant applicants may wish to present several options for building networks, providing federal and state agencies with options to consider and different approaches to coverage in depending on available funds and future opportunities for expansion through other grant programs.
Automated material bill of materials saves money
Once a final design is selected, all it takes is one click in ADO to generate a complete and accurate BOM. Previously, manual cost estimates for network projects were generated on a best estimate basis, typically generating costs by hand for a small portion of the overall coverage footprint and then extrapolating that to the whole of the building plan. As a result, construction cost figures tended to be inflated significantly to ensure there was no shortage of materials. This introduced a high level of uncertainty in project costs and a greater frequency of being wrong on the high side.
Applications for federal broadband grants total between three and ten times the actual amount available for distribution, making the process extremely competitive. More accurate cost estimation using ADO allows both the applicant and the funding agency to have confidence in the cost estimates and potentially offers a reward over higher priced competing applications.
Network life cycle model
With multiple federal and state agencies offering billions for broadband projects over the next five years, access networks will be built, expanded and upgraded through the use of more than one program. Creating an initial network design using ADO provides a digital design for future network expansion and upgrades and provides easily accessible background documentation in support of new grant applications and the possibility of exploring expansion scenarios.
For example, a network launched today using pandemic relief funds may be able to use funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to expand coverage areas. to adjacent territories. It could also serve as a foundational benchmark for building services in new areas with funding from the USDA’s ReConnect Loans and Grants program, adding state funds along the way to further expand the reach of the network.
An investment in an ADO approach provides ongoing benefits as you take advantage of new opportunities. Many service providers currently carrying out projects in their initial territories are already planning to expand broadband networks, driven by the needs of their neighbors and the lack of alternatives. Federal and state funding is fueling expansion across the country into unserved and underserved areas.
Once completed, existing networks will need to be upgraded in many places in the future as equipment ages and new capabilities become available. Starting with a digital model allows migration paths for network enhancements, delivering lower latencies and higher speeds that can be priced with a comprehensive component-level BOM as new technologies become available.
Flexible Network Design Means Grant Success
Given the large volume of grant applications coming into federal and state broadband offices, implementing ADO alone will not guarantee grant success. There’s a lot of competition for dollars today, and that’s set to continue over the next five years as federal, state, and local governments work to bridge the digital divide. Service providers must have strong and affordable network construction plans and be ready to deliver to communities in need.
The ADO approach offers an advantage. It can be used as a key tool to improve the process of designing, costing, building and maintaining broadband networks; reduce design time from weeks and months to days; and give network architects time to evaluate network design and coverage options. Deployment scenarios can be quickly iterated and refined to account for tradeoffs between coverage and cost, with more accurate BOM estimation at the click of a button.
Ian Oliver is co-founder and chairman of Versant Solutions Group, where he leads a team of industry leaders with decades of experience in the design and implementation of broadband networks and advanced computing technology. .