enet operates fibre infrastructure, including the State’s Metropolitan Area Networks (MANS), as well as a complementary business providing national backhaul services to these towns. As a result, the company have been building a niche as the provider of choice for network services to the telecommunications industry. Thomas Grant, enet’s CTO reflects on a new FTTB initiative currently being deployed in 4 regional locations with plans for more.
Middle Mile Vs Last Mile
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 in regional 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.
enet, recognising a market opportunity to further develop the MANs, have 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.
We can all appreciate the ever-increasing data and video usage demands, so it’ll come as little surprise when I say that 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. In fact, everyone we talked to was stating the same thing – the service providers (who are our customers), the end users, as well as local lobby groups such as the Chambers of Commerce.
As we 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 – that being the last-mile infrastructure that would deliver high-speed broadband.
The enet fibredirect deployment targets the 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
enet fibredirect is a genuine 100% fibre service, with fibre optic cables being delivered directly into businesses (FTTB). Other so-called ‘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, I sometimes regard the FTTC acronym to be a little misleading – maybe “Fibre to the Copper” would be more accurate.
By installing a 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. We’re already getting great feedback from users of the network – particularly in relation to their ability to adopt cloud services.
A critical design decision along the way, 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.
A Coalition of the Willing
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 project to look at ways to bring the costs down. 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 the Local Authorities, construction contractors, as well as equipment suppliers.
The company have 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.
enet has tried to de-risk the project commercially, as much as possible, by only building the infrastructure when over 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, it looked as if 302 premises were passed, but in fact, we 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. We were 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 major 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, we have moved forward in varying degrees in another 3 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 lots of industry noise and chatter about FTTx deployments but enet are actually delivering. Our aim is to continue these FTTB rollouts and deliver our ‘fibredirect’ infrastructure to many more small and medium-sized businesses throughout regional Ireland in the future.