enet’s fibre network brings spark of life to Irish towns
19 May 2015
Author: Thomas Grant, CTO, enet
In the recent past, for a variety of economic and geographical reasons, the private sector had not delivered the desired levels of investment in telecommunications infrastructure in an appropriate timeframe.
While alternatives to eircom’s national core fibre existed, there was no competing network available within towns to access these national fibre networks. This infrastructure deficit (between national and local) had been identified as a barrier to competition, so the State took the decision to deploy local fibre networks, to be known as Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) in 94 cities and towns across Ireland.
A central objective of the MANs project was to provide a high-quality metro or middle-mile network that would provide high-bandwidth capacity to authorised service providers – enabling them to sell high-capacity broadband and telephony services to end users. Recognising a market opportunity to further develop the MANs, enet has initiated a ‘fibredirect’ project to terminate fibre within business premises, in essence creating last-mile fibre access infrastructure or a ‘Fibre To The Business’ (FTTB) network.
With ever-increasing data and video usage demands, legacy copper networks are under pressure to handle more and more traffic than they were ever designed to handle. Regional Ireland is no exception and the need for high-speed broadband services was, and still is, becoming an increasingly critical factor in delivering competitiveness on a global economic stage. The service providers (enet’s customers), end users, as well as local lobby groups such as the chambers of commerce, are all in agreement about this point.
As enet saw it, network operators and service providers had to be prepared to deal with increasing bandwidth demand but the business community still had a critical infrastructure gap – the last-mile infrastructure that would deliver high-speed broadband.
The enet fibredirect deployment targets small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the chosen locations, bringing last-mile fibre to businesses and facilitates the bandwidth needed to conduct business locally, nationally and internationally.
FTTB Vs FTTC
The company’s fibredirect is a 100 per cent fibre service, with fibre optic cables being delivered directly into businesses (FTTB). Other ‘fibre’ services connect to a local telecoms exchange or cabinet (FTTC), but still rely on older copper networks to reach premises, resulting in a loss of performance. In this regard, the FTTC acronym can be a little misleading – perhaps ‘Fibre to the Copper’ would be more accurate.
By installing an FTTB network, enet is able to provide a network that enables a better broadband experience for businesses by eliminating bandwidth bottlenecks and allowing them to enter digital markets and take full advantage of online services and applications. Positive feedback has been forthcoming from users of the network – particularly in relation to their ability to adopt cloud services.
One critical design decision was to go for a GPON architecture over point-to-point – this allowed us to deliver fibre to all the addressable market in one mass rollout and allowed us to achieve economies of scale. We developed a blended physical architecture model – with some subterranean network being constructed, typically from the MAN ducting in the street to the base of buildings. From there, we delivered a wall-mounted solution to run cables along the building façade to deliver fibre to a pre-termination point/distribution box.
Every distribution point has a fibre split of 1:32 and, depending on the density of businesses, these were taken to a 2×16 port or a 4×8 port distribution box. To allow for future scalability, we decided to have no more than 60% of the distribution boxes initially utilised.
Deploying FTTB networks can be cost prohibitive, especially in regional Ireland where the commercial return is less than what you’d expect in a large urban city, so enet commenced a series of pilot projects to look at ways of reducing costs. From our experience and understanding of international best practice, the company aimed to deliver FTTB infrastructure for €1,000 per business passed.
It became clear to us early on that successfully delivering against this target was going to depend on building and developing strong partnerships with multiple parties – but, significantly, with local authorities, construction contractors and equipment suppliers.
The company has a long-standing relationship with a trusted partner for regular civil engineering works, namely i.p.One, so this contractor was also brought in to assist, plan, design and ultimately construct the FTTB networks. In the case of equipment suppliers, we were able to build on the successful partnership between access solutions provider Calix and Irish network systems integrator Agile Networks, a networking specialist already supporting 16 of the top 25 ISPs in Ireland.
The company has tried to de-risk the project commercially, as much as possible, by only building the infrastructure when more than 50% of any given addressable market actually signs up to a service on the FTTB network. It follows that a significant aspect of the project was to correctly identify the addressable market in the first instance. In Claremorris, Co Mayo, it looked as if 302 premises were passed, but in fact, it was quickly recognised that 76 premises were actually vacant, leaving a considerably smaller addressable market than first anticipated. This can be critical in terms of an economical deployment.
Delivering fibre to businesses in a mass deployment requires a great deal of pre-planning but also a huge degree of flexibility – since the planned network architecture tends to be liable to change. One of the more significant challenges was in obtaining wayleaves (or rights-of-way) from landlords for installing cables on building façades; enet was largely able to overcome this by explaining and demonstrating the value of having a fibre-enabled building in terms of future sale and rental value. Another challenge was in terms of the civil works. Local authorities naturally have fees and associated conditions for excavating the streets/roads and these can have a big influence on costs.
For this project, enet worked with the local authorities collaboratively and imaginatively to minimise these fees. Again, it’s worth noting that this implies further flexibility in the planned network architecture. Overall, the deployment of the GPON solution in Claremorris has proven to be very successful and this gives the company a strong degree of confidence in moving forward with ‘fibredirect’ rollouts. Unsurprisingly, enet wants to achieve economic savings by moving swiftly from one town to the next, making maximum use of the resources to help keep the overall costs of planning and wayleaves, civil work, cabling and commissioning of equipment down.
To date, enet has moved forward in varying degrees in another three locations: Loughrea, Ardee and Kilkenny. Loughrea is built and active, as is Ardee. Kilkenny is in the construction phase, with service activation to follow.
There is a lot of industry noise and chatter about FTTB deployments – but something which enet is already working on. Our aim is to continue these FTTB rollouts and deliver our ‘fibredirect’ infrastructure to many more SMEs throughout regional Ireland in the future.
Thomas has more than 15 years of telecoms, engineering and operations experience having worked with Interoute before joining enet in 2011. He has a degree in engineering from the University of Ulster and a postgraduate diploma from Queens University Belfast.
enet holds the concession to manage, maintain and operate two phases of the State’s Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) programme. The MAN infrastructure enables 94 towns and cities across the country with an advanced technology platform capable of delivering cutting-edge communications and information services. The company provides cost-effective telecommunications products and services to authorised operators on a wholesale basis, and is committed to the development of the regions in Ireland through encouraging the open delivery of affordable, state-of-the-art broadband services. For more information see: www.enet.ie. The firm is also developing fibredirect in a number of Irish cities and towns. It is a 100% fibre service, with fibre optic cables being delivered directly into premises, allowing SMEs to access speeds of up to 250Mbs. For more information, see: www.enetfibredirect.ie.