Fiber update: Progress continues despite COVID-19

April 20, 2020
The thought is that in 2020 essential fiber deployments will continue, but the coronavirus situation will cause some planned installations to be adjusted because of unanticipated capacity demands ...

The thought is that in 2020 essential fiber deployments will continue, but the coronavirus situation will cause some planned installations to be adjusted because of unanticipated capacity demands, said Rosemary Cochran, principal of Vertical Systems Group. Meanwhile, test equipment companies are doing their part to ensure these deployments go smoothly.

By the end of 2019, there were more than 1 million fiber-lit buildings in the United States according to Vertical Systems Group. Network providers concentrated on footprint expansion with new fiber deployments providing dedicated access to network services, connecting 5G small cells, enabling low latency for edge computing, and supporting the massive bandwidth surge for webscale companies.

The VSG LEADERBOARD results indicate that in the United States AT&T led the number of on-net fiber-lit buildings, followed by Verizon, Spectrum Enterprise, Comcast, Cox, Crown Castle Fiber, Frontier, Zayo, Altice USA, Atlantic Broadband, Windstream and Consolidated Communications. The 13 retail and wholesale fiber providers each had 10,000 or more on-net U.S. fiber-lit commercial buildings as of year-end 2019.

Additionally, 12 companies qualified for the 2019 Challenge Tier as follows (in alphabetical order): Cincinnati Bell, Cleareon, Cogent, Conterra, DQE Communications, Everstream, FirstLight, IFN, Logix Fiber Networks, Segra, Unite Private Networks, and Uniti Fiber. Those fiber providers each had between 2,000 and 9,999 U.S. fiber-lit commercial buildings.

Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) announcements continue with Mississippi-based Monroe County Electric Power Association (EPA) selecting Conexon to provide broadband management services including network design and engineering, construction management, and customer support for the association's FTTH network.

Monroe County EPA plans to begin construction on the network by 4Q 2020, with the first customers expected to be connected by early 2021. The four-year buildout is planned to span 1,500 miles of fiber, serve 100% of the power association's 10,800 members and is anticipated to cost in the range of $29 million.

From a home installation standpoint, ClearField has introduced Home Deployment Kits designed to streamline FTTH installation. The kits, which include everything needed to connect a home to fiber, are intended to reduce install time by 30 minutes per install and also to enable consumer self-installs.

Clearfield's new Home Deployment Kits are designed to complete the fiber connection from outside the home to the point where the customer premises equipment (CPE) is located inside the home, regardless of home size, shape, and building material, by packaging all the necessary materials in one kit.

Home Deployment Kits are expected to be available for shipment in May.

Other vendors continue to be active as well. AFL was awarded two new patents over the past quarter for technology and developments in optical connectivity and apparatus (OCA) products.

The first patent is for "Communications Module Housing." The commercialized product - the CGM Plus - is a rack-mount panel that accepts different size and form factor xWDM modules (CGM and LGX). The invention includes a fiber management guide region that pivots downward to allow access to the module storage slots, allowing for flexibility in the field to combine various modules for xWDM applications.

The second patent is for "Methods, systems and apparatus for manufacturing a cable assembly with breakout and molded cable assembly." The patent recognizes a process for creating a cable assembly furcation kit for protection of fibers under extreme environmental conditions. It also provides for scaling across a range of fibers. The new system has enabled AFL to improve manufacturing efficiencies via an automated machine that creates a uniform profile of the furcation tubes to ease the insertion of fiber into the right slots and provide the proper dimension to securely fit into the module. AFL has standardized on this format, calling it the SST furcation system.

A testing time for fiber

Meanwhile, test system vendors have continued to bring new tools to market to help operators improve the efficiency and success of their deployments. For example, AFL earlier this year unveiled the ROGUE OLTS Certifier. Applicable to a wide variety of fiber installation scenarios, the two-unit optical loss test set (OLTS) features a test port on each of the paired units to measure insertion loss, return loss and length bi-directionally to industry standards on multimode or single-mode networks.

The ROGUE units are available with dual bi-directional test ports that enable technicians to certify two single-mode fibers simultaneously without swapping test cords. The OLTScan be paired with an optional multi-fiber switch to certify MPO-terminated fiber cables bi-directionally to IEEE 40G and 100G test limits.

EXFO recently introduced the Optical Wave Expert, which integrates DWDM channel power validation and OTDR fault-locating capabilities on a single port to help field technicians automatically measure, diagnose and troubleshoot optical fiber links.

The integration of channel checker and OTDR capabilities on a single port is intended to reduce unnecessary manipulation of the optical fiber and improve field efficiency to reduce time-to-repair and accelerate service turn-up. Real-time channel power readings are available through a GUI environment, as well as bar graph and table views on a touchscreen display.

VIAVI Solutions launched OneAdvisor, a modular 5G instrument test platform. The first OneAdvisor solution, ONA-800, combines technology coverage, test features, and test process automation to facilitate aggressive 5G wireless network deployment at scale.

The ONA-800 is designed to allow cell site technicians to test fiber, RF, and CPRI/Ethernet from a single instrument, replacing multiple independent tools (OTDR, CAA, fiber scope). The workflow UI in the instrument is designed to guide technicians through a pre-configured common test process, and it is supported by reporting and workflow software to automate job certification reports.

The ONA-800 combines the relevant features of VIAVI's CellAdvisor 5G base station analyzer, T-BERD/MTS-5800 handheld Metro Ethernet test solution, and T-BERD/MTS 4000 OTDR into a portable form factor designed to allow a distributed workforce to address multiple network technologies from site to site.

The ONA-800 can be configured to test fiber, coaxial cable, RF spectrum, Common Public Radio Interface (CPRI), Ethernet and antenna alignment, based on carrier test plans.

Last fall, VeEX announced the NET-BOX, a multi-port HTTP/TCP test set for the gigabit Internet market to help assure customers that they're receiving the fiber-supported bandwidth they've been promised. Driven by a tablet or smartphone app, the battery-operated test set (Patent No. US008902607) offers four simultaneous 1 GigE ports, along with one 2.5 GigE SFP port. The NET-BOX is designed to deliver up to 4 Gbps of Layer 4+ throughput line rate.

The NET-BOX is an FPGA-based QoS testing platform designed to test the limits of the service being provisioned, verify QoS and assure QoE for Internet services beyond 1 Gbps.

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