How to build a network without breaking the bank

As little as 25 years ago, the telephone line was the main means of sending information. Voice, fax and telex information was exchanged through a mere 4 kilobit per second link! Now, bandwidths of megabits or gigabits per second are common-place; a thousand-fold growth.

Our insatiable appetite for communication has fuelled the growth of the telecoms industry for the last 25 years, and we are still hungry for new and improved ways of keeping in touch – either with people, events or current affairs. In fact, mobile data usage is expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 42% and 55% in Western Europe and North America, respectively.

The desire to share and consume data-intensive content has given the telecoms industry its latest challenge, as CSPs begin to upgrade their networks to support increasing demand for next-generation services, applications and devices.

Customers are primarily interested in voice service quality and getting their content faster, regardless of their device. This means they want increased speed, accessibility and reliability of their services, and CSPs face the continual challenges of keeping network capacity ahead of next generation data hungry applications.

The common concern is not one of technology; it is simply how to build the network without breaking the bank. With the GFC has come tighter credit availability, at higher rates of interest, so the key questions for the CSP are “how to reduce the operational and capital costs associated with the network to reduce the necessary investment?” and “how to build the network quickly so as to offset the massive investment with early revenue generation?”

Islands of management

To introduce change into the network both optimally, in order to reduce the needed investment and quickly, in order to generate revenue from investment, CSPs need all the departments in their business to work smoothly together.

It is the successful management of cost and legal controls, commercial agreements, permit and survey requests, logistics, supply-chain and contractors which has the greatest contribution to deployment of change within cost and time-scale constraints. Although the network is technology-driven, the planning, design and commissioning of a network is a project management activity and is subject to the same challenges as any major construction project.

Operators are typically executing hundreds of network changes in parallel; covering build, grooming, major problem restoration, decommissioning. Dependencies and conflicts across these projects need to be identified and tracked to ensure that each project completes successfully and as efficiently as possible.

The problem is that the combination of the complexity of any network rollout project and amount of parallel activities inevitably leads to inefficiencies, mistakes, double-bookings and wasted resources. A common occurrence is to have contractors arriving at a site to do work, but the equipment they require, or the access that they need, are not available.

This sounds like a trivial problem, but with a CSP managing hundreds of projects, each one with hundreds of tasks requiring orchestration of many part of the business, equipment suppliers, estates manager, contractors, legal staff, auditors, accountants and other specialists, it is not surprising that these problems occur. And these problems can delay projects by weeks and months in network go-live and add considerable operational and capital costs.

As is true in any project, planning and activity management is an essential factor in minimising cost overruns. The fact of the matter is that many CSPs simply do not have the necessary tools to help them orchestrate the multiple activities required to support major network rollouts because their organisations have become fragmented around “islands of management” with departments for supply-chain, legal, estates management, contractor management, accounting/finance, planning permissions etc.

The overhead of keeping these departments contributing to the network rollout leads the CSP to lose sight of the end-game – delivering network change to enable faster, more accessible and more reliable services to their customers to generate revenue.o

Orchestrating the organisation

What is needed is a means to orchestrate how the various departments in the business work together to introduce change into the network. Effective orchestration can bring about many improvements:

  • Reducing time-to-revenue – Faster introduction of new network means that customers will use the services sooner, and start to generate revenue for the CSP. Of example, a mobile cell site will generate tens of thousands of dollars revenue a day – bringing it operational a month early can generate a million dollars in additional revenue
  • Reducing asset costs – Effective management of asset holdings, exploiting bulk-purchasing agreements with vendors and effective interaction with the supply- and logistics- chains can reduce the cost of new equipment for a network rollout
  • Optimal planning – Rather than just focusing on the pure technology issues of rollout, CSPs can examine a wider context to make an optimal selection of candidate plans. CSPs that consider existing site availability, site-share arrangements, ease of back-haul, legal costs, leveraging existing commercial agreements and other non-technical decisions, tend to make better informed decisions that reduce the TCO for any new network
  • Increasing efficiency – While the example above about contractors arriving without the necessary equipment or access sounds minor, multiply the wasted time, costs of truck-roles and other logistics by the number of times this may occur, and the benefits of efficiency become obvious. Between five and ten wasted trips put site rollout is fairly typical for a CSP
  • Better financial and time-scale tracking – If failing projects can be spotted sooner, based on an over-spend or a time-scale jeopardy, they can be corrected earlier, and costly ramifications avoided
  • Increased reliability – Proactive and reactive maintenance of the network can increase the availability of services to increase revenue and reduce SLA payments
  • Better payment tracking – Paying network deployment partners, contractors and landlords efficiency is challenging for many CSPs, but can avoid long-term problems in these essential relationships.

A practical approach

The secret to cost effectively deploying network change is having tools that help the programme and project managers responsible for implementing change make sense of the masses of information available, help them allocate tasks out to other parts of the organisation and help them quickly see when activities need their focus.

For many CSPs, generic Enterprise Resource Planning tools have been a starting point to curb these issues. However, although ERPs provide planning tools and have access to the organisation structure, supply-chain and financial information, these tools are often too generic to successfully manage the highly specific technological issues faced in telecommunications.

As an alternative, an increasing number of CSPs are looking at dedicated tools, designed to be fit for purpose to control telecoms infrastructure rollout and management. With these next generation tool, CSPs can achieve the desired business result, but in less time, with less cost and with reduced detrimental long-term impacts.

These tools aim to complement the generic ERP tools by providing the telecommunications specific capabilities that are needed. And importantly, these tools are targeted specifically at the constantly evolving communications industry – so the CSP can rely on the software vendor to keep abreast of industry trends, and keep the solution current.

A holistic approach

Dedicated telecoms infrastructure rollout and management tools aim to bring together information and organisational capabilities to provide a holistic context for network change management. Technical, commercial, legal, civil and political issues can be factored in to obtain the optimal plan for introducing change into the network.

These tools will orchestrate the that activities technical planners, warehouse staff, the supply-chain, the logistics chain, legal teams, estates management teams and accountants, all under the overall control of programme and project managers.

The end result is cost effective and timely deployment of new services to customers, to generate revenue for new higher speed, higher availability and higher reliability services. And, to do all this, without having to break the bank.

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Jon Wells, Senior OSS Consultant at Clarity, brings 15 years of hands-on experience in the niche area of telecommunications - having worked as a developer, designer, architect, consultant and product manager. Jonathan has experience of all relevant developments and standards across the network management world (e.g. eTOM, SID, OSS/J etc....) and has worked with wireless and wireline technologies.