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Fiber Rollout: The Network Inventory Management Challenge

20 February 2023
Mike Dorland

Trusted by:

Telecom Egypt
BC Hydro


National Grid
Open Fiber
TPX Communications
Ella Link
Red Iris
Surf Net

In a recent blog, we looked at how the growing pace of fiber rollout and network launches are challenging telecoms operators. In this blog, we’ll look at the situation exclusively in the context of Network Inventory Management. NIM is key to operational efficiency and operators need to keep pace with change so they can deliver fiber successfully.

Fiber rollout: the network inventory management challenge

Let’s start by reminding ourselves that the US is presently in the middle of a major fiber rollout, with drivers ranging from the need to address inadequate broadband services in rural and remote regions, to the building of new 5G networks to ensure universal coverage. 

This landscape presents a challenge to operators competing in a difficult environment. In the previous blog (6 challenges for competitive carriers), we focused on issues that would have to be addressed at an organizational level. In this blog, we’ll drill down to one specific area that you need to consider when building out new fiber investments: network inventory management. 

The need to know; you can’t manage what you don’t know

Before we dive into these fiber challenges, let’s look at why network inventory management is so important. At the best of times, even without aggressive fiber rollout, network inventory management can be a difficult task. Many network operators don’t have a clear view of what’s in their networks which, as they expand their asset bases, can result in pockets of information that aren’t converged. 

This creates a problem that’s made worse by siloed support systems that leave the underlying information disaggregated, impeding efficient data processing and management. Too many operators are reliant on legacy processes which often have a negative impact on long-term commercial success.

The result of the above situation can be explained in simple terms: if operators don’t understand what resources are in their networks –physical equipment and infrastructure and, increasingly today, logical, and virtual resources, and where they are – they’re not going to be able to manage their businesses effectively. Or competitively. 

They need to know both where their resources are located and their delivery paths as well as what resources are available and how resource allocation can change over time. All their assets must be correlated, so that the right service can be delivered, at the right time, to meet the required service levels. Not easy at the best of times: even more challenging as fiber rollout explodes.

Six fiber rollout challenges for operators 

Now, let’s look at the challenges in more detail as we consider the need to deliver fiber – profitably and efficiently, in any environment. Effective telecom network inventory management and reliable, agile software is the key to solving them. 

1. Understanding the best route to reach distant and remote locations

If operators don’t have an awareness of the best routing options, then network build-out will probably be inefficient. The exact challenges involved will differ from region to region (for instance, in the US many fibers run via poles while in other territories existing infrastructure lies mainly underground). Awareness of existing physical infrastructure as well as how to effectively plan fiber rollout is critical to success – all of which is a key function of a network inventory management solution.

2. Understanding SPOFs to safeguard the network

As fiber is rolled out the challenge of maintaining a quick and easy way to manage and resolve reported issues increases. Impact analysis is critical to keep customers informed about problems. Where, for example, there is a Single Point of Failure (SPOF) in the network, operators must be able to identify the location and which back-up systems might be available to remedy the problem in the short term, while a more permanent fix is delivered. The right networking inventory management solution will enable you to quickly identify SPOFs and to take action to prevent outages and create new routing plans. 

3. Rolling out fiber cost effectively

Fiber rollout is expensive, even more so if the operator is relying on multiple generic IT solutions within the legacy infrastructure to understand and manage its newly expanding network. Integrating these (ERP, CRM, ticketing tools, etc.) via an Enterprise Service Bus leads to enormous integration costs and complexity in the long term due to lack of domain functionality, a problem that can be removed or minimized with holistic network inventory management.

4. Unifying new assets with legacy networks

Fiber rollout presents an expanded challenge because without a truly accurate, up-to-date picture of the entire network inventory and infrastructure (both new and legacy) the operator will struggle to implement an effective business model or deliver what end-customers need. For instance, operators will need to plan for and deliver when fiber is activated or required, and ensure they have the agility and oversight needed to meet the dynamic demands of a rapidly evolving market.

inventory management vc4

5. Consolidating inventory data into a single platform

Network data is central for both problem solving and for planning infrastructure investments and designing new services that meet customer demand. Data-driven network inventory insights give operators a fast-track to upgrading customer loyalty and reducing revenue loss to competitors. The solution requires data to be recorded in a single platform that accounts for and enables the analysis of the data drawn from a broad variety of network sources – the network inventory system is the logical place to locate such data. 

6. Sharing data with other systems and processes

We noted in the previous blog that siloed data is a general issue for operators due to the different systems and applications commonly residing in legacy infrastructures and it’s a particular challenge in the context of telecom network inventory.  Siloed data in this context leads to an incomplete picture of activity in the network meaning, in turn, a loss of control if the operator is not able to determine which records should be sent to which downstream location and for what purpose. Harnessing data (point 5, above) is vital, but its value is compromised if the collected data can’t then effectively be shared as required – so the network inventory management solution should support integration with other key processes.

On the upside…

If the telecom network inventory management landscape in the context of fiber rollout seems demanding, the upside is perhaps that these changes give operators the chance to draw a line in the sand and resolve the legacy landscape problem for once and for all, confining the errors of history to the past. 

Addressing network inventory management now with an effective, fit-for-purpose, modern solution ought to be a simple decision for operators focused on transitioning their businesses into the new, digital service world. 

Make no mistake, failing to do this means ignoring an existential threat. The network itself demands both capital and operational expenditure and if it (and these threats) is not managed effectively, costs will increase, and profits will shrink. As a result, the viability of the business is threatened. The single view and data model of all network assets that modern network inventory management solutions provide is a key element to reduce this threat.

GIS and Network Inventory Management from VC4

One leading example of a comprehensive, modern telecom network inventory management solution is VC4-IMS. VC4-IMS uses rigorous processes to collect raw operational data, normalize and then reconcile it.  It’s also available as a fully managed cloud-based service.

As a result, VC4-IMS delivers a critical, 360 degree view of all physical and logical resources in the existing network as well as possible obstacles to network expansion to provide the operator with a clear, unified understanding of live network assets, and their utilization and configuration at any given time. So, it’s the perfect platform to transform your operations – helping you to confront and solve the emerging challenges – and ensure your business stays competitive.

If you want to explore how VC4-IMS can help your business, why not download our recent paper on the role of GIS location data in inventory management? Click here  to get “GIS and network inventory management – the foundation of effective network design, build, operations, and extension”.

And, if you want to explore telecom network inventory management in more depth, you can discover all you need to know, here.