Moving the Goalposts from Homes Passed to Homes Connected

Dec. 7, 2022
Service providers are going to have to change the way they do installations to become more efficient to move the goalposts from homes passed to homes connected.

Among the measurements of success investors currently use to gauge the value of broadband service providers is the number of homes passed by their networks. The statistic indicates the potential number of customers within a service area, which is valuable, but does little to indicate the number of households that are essentially “revenue ready.” Homes connected is the emerging benchmark for service provider success, providing a precise number as to the number of households that can quickly generate revenue with little to no capital expense involved – in some cases, by simply pressing the Enter button after signing up for service on a web portal.

Service providers are going to have to change the way they do installations to become more efficient to move the goalposts from homes passed to homes connected. The work begins by examining the process of making physical connections from the core network to the neighborhood, household, and inside the house. Depending on the age of the neighborhood and the type of fiber deployment, outside work is required to get a fiber connection between the network and the premises, followed by inside work connecting the outside cable inside of the home to connect the optical networking unit.

The “last foot” work, connecting homes into a fiber network, is typically very labor and craft intensive, requiring cables to be stripped and cut in an unprotected environment, adjusting cable slack storage by hand, splicing one or more fibers on-site, and installing connectors to the ends of fiber. All are time-consuming processes that offer many ways to introduce defects and issues that could require makeup work and additional truck rolls to fix problems before a customer can get up and running. A fast install completed poorly is more costly to a service provider than a more time-consuming but good install, since it will require one or more truck rolls to fix, while the customer waits for service and the billing department waits to start collecting revenue.

In today’s environment with a shortage of manpower, especially in skilled fiber technicians, service providers need to carefully examine their processes, products, and procedures for connecting customers with a keen eye to minimize touch labor at every step of connecting a new household into the network. Simplification is key to reducing valuable onsite time and avoiding introducing defects into the process. The goal is to connect homes as rapidly as possible with working connections from day one.

Steps toward simplification

Time saved in an efficient and quality installation process enables service providers to maximize value out of their available field installation workforce and leads to more installations – more homes connected – per day. The best way to save time is to invest in craft-friendly technologies that are plug-and-play in nature to minimize splicing and other types of touch labor during installation so field teams can be as effective as possible when they are on-site.

Using a craft-friendly broadband deployment technology when connecting fiber to the home has been shown to save anywhere between 35% to 38% in direct time savings when compared to the baseline method of inside and outside work performed. The key is in leveraging technology in connection products rather than having to do extra work manually, step by step, in the field.

Simplification starts by using a house cable supplied on a flexible deploy reel that contains up to 100 feet of flexible optical cable and by using pre-connectorized cable products for both the drop cable from the outside plant (OSP) network and the house cable that enters the home. Using a prepped deploy reel for the house cable minimizes pre-engineering because there’s no need to specify an exact length of cable needed. The reel enables optical cable to be pulled directly to the entry point of the house. Once the entry cable with its pushable connector reaches the location inside, the connector assembly is completed with supplied connector housings and the connector is mated to an adapter. Since the slack on the reel is already stored, no further slack management is required.

This process eliminates the requirement to set up a connector installation station since the cables are pre-connectorized – no fuss, no muss, no splicing or putting on connectors in the field. The preloaded cable reel eliminates the need to set up a cable payout station to cut house cable to custom length, inserting the cable into the home, and splicing both ends.

Survey shows the benefits

A large service provider recently commissioned a study to quantify the time saved using the method and technology described above when conducting residential installations, using a baseline of 12 steps for outside and inside work. When compared to a previous baseline study, the craft-friendly broadband deployment method saved between 35% to 38% across outside and inside work during a total of 159 installations.

The baseline study pointed to several potential failure points using field-installed connectors and fiber cables cut and installed on site. Field-installed connectors had less successful connections, delivered higher optical loss, took more time to install, and required more truck rolls for fixing problems overall. With cables cut in the field and installed onsite, problems can be introduced by cable stripping, fiber cutting and fiber cleaving in an unprotected environment, creating a cable pay-out rig onsite, and relying on a technician to coil slack storage by hand and then fit the slack into the TAP box.

Utilizing craft-friendly hardware, including pre-connectorized cable products for both the drop cable and the house cable supplied on a deployment reel, minimized pre-engineering for specifying an exact length of cable needed and eliminated the need to install connectors in the field or improvise cable slack management for both inside and outside work. This process eliminated the need to set up a connector installation and cable payout stations onsite.

Improvements made through using pre-installed connectors included 100% guaranteed performance over field-installed because connectors could be tested both before shipping to the customer and at a depot site for additional assurance before going out into the field. Incorporation of a pre-loaded deployment reel dramatically simplified installation by paying out the exact amount of cable required and provided superior cable management with remaining slack stored safely on the reel rather than forcing a field tech into making slack cable fit into an enclosure.

The study found that craft-friendly technology saved an average of 39 minutes on outside fiber work and 19 minutes on inside work. The operator running this study found that the cumulative time savings of outside and inside work enabled field technicians to add one and sometimes two additional homes-connected installation appointments per day for each technician – a considerable productivity increase that ultimately led to being able to generate revenue faster by turning up more customers per day.

The time is now

Fiber broadband networks are going through an unprecedented boom, driven by federal funding from the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program and aided by other federal and state programs along with private investment. Service providers are going to look for ways to accelerate homes connected, using more efficient technology and methods to reduce and take the best advantage of skilled field teams. Given the urgency to connect homes to generate revenue, faster ways to connect homes is more of a certainty than a prediction for 2023.
Kevin Morgan is chief marketing officer of Clearfield, Inc.

About the Author

Kevin Morgan | Chief Marketing Officer

Kevin Morgan leads the marketing efforts for Clearfield as chief marketing officer. He joined the company in 2016. He also currently serves as an officer of the Fiber Broadband Association’s Board and is a two-time elected Board Chair (2015 and 2019) after first joining the Board in 2010.

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