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Fiber optic network management

A guide to fiber optic network management

We live in an incredible age of digital information. Fiber networks are the infrastructure that provides the transportation for all of the data we consume. Fiber is increasingly in demand as it provides (by far) the best bandwidth capabilities. 

It’s likely that you, or the company you represent, have invested hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars planning, designing, and building a network. If not, you may be deciding whether or not to do so. Or maybe you’re just curious about the incredible web of fiber that is being spun around the world. Either way, this guide will help you better understand what it means to manage a fiber optic network and learn about the one tool that is required to successfully do it. 

In this guide, you’ll find the following information we think is critical for any network operator.  

What is fiber optic network management?

Fiber Optic Network Management is the tasks required to plan, design, build, operate, and analyze a fiber optic network. With a well-functioning management system, a network operator can install fiber faster, sell more services, reduce costs, and retain more customers. 

In the past, fiber optic networks were difficult to manage. The lack of information – or rather the lack of organized, easily accessible information – was a big problem. The most important document used to be a wall-sized printed map of the cables and other network elements that made up the network. Along with those were filing cabinets full of CAD drawings and splicing information. Network operators would need hours to answer even simple questions about their network. For example, a network operator would have to pull drawings together and open multiple spreadsheets just to determine the route a single fiber would take in the network. If they were trying to track down a fiber break, good luck. 

How can you plan a network if you don’t know where the current network is?

Even if you know where the cable is, what fibers within those cables have services traveling across them? Are there spare innerducts in the conduit you want to access? How many fibers will need to be available in order to add new services? How many wavelengths are on any given fiber? The information required to answer these and myriad other questions have got to be easily accessible to tame the growing beast that is a fiber optic network. But it isn’t. 

It would seem obvious that if fiber optic cable is buried in the dirt or hung on a pole, that someone would document that. Of course, there are drawings that were used to plan such installations, so there is a record as to how the job was supposed to be done. But how was it really done? Where was it really buried? Where was it really hung? And, when that information is known, where is it stored? It seems so easy to track! But this perception of simplicity is one of the difficulties in getting good documentation. The network is not overly complex, especially when the first ring is built. It can be diagrammed with one color of marker on a whiteboard. So, documenting the network is not a priority. The mantra to “build at all costs” echos from trucks to utility trailers. Who cares about writing it all down; we can do that later. It’s simple. 

Well, it’s simple until it’s not. A network ties things together, and the more things that get tied together the more complex the network becomes. Until one day, somebody realizes that they need to add more customers, but they aren’t sure if they have enough fiber to allocate. By now, that whiteboard looks like a kindergarten art project with colors from all parts of the rainbow. What is lacking is a system to keep things organized. That’s why Fiber Network Management Systems were invented. 

What is a fiber network management system (FNMS)?

Today, a standard Fiber Network Management System (FNMS), can put all that information into a location-intelligent relational database with a friendly front-end map, making many tasks that used to take hours come down to a single mouse click. Now finding the route a fiber takes throughout a network is not just simple, it’s enlightening. And finding the location of that broken fiber? Well, it doesn’t require luck anymore. 

The FNMS is software that is the control center for your network assets, especially your fiber. And, since fiber is the most important asset a fiber network operator owns, the FNMS is the most important system a network operator will invest in. 

You can think of an FNMS as a digital twin of your network. With this virtual model understanding the important questions about your network is easy. For example, without even running an optical time-domain reflectometer (OTDR) test, you can determine the number of fibers extending from one building to another. 

With an FNMS, network operators can model their network configuration before anything is done on the ground. They can identify potential problems with a plan and make the necessary changes. Once the network is built the virtual model becomes an accurate representation of the network. 

An FNMS shows you what’s inside your cables. First, find the location or name of the cable you want to investigate. Then click on the cable to determine what fibers are available, where each fiber terminates, and which end-users are served by the fiber. Watch demo videos of IQGeo's Fiber Network Management System to see how it works.  

FNMS adjusts as your network adjusts, meaning the relationships between objects in your database are updated automatically. You don’t need to worry about updating multiple splicing spreadsheets, or redrawing cables in CAD files. The database will adjust and will identify any problems that may have occurred. 

Tracking the relationships in your database can be done at the map level. For example, you can draw the path a fiber takes in your network. 

An FNMS will allow you to view any type of document relating to your network. Use the FNMS to link digital photographs, hardware and equipment brochures, lease agreements, contracts, CAD drawings, etc.

Explore the key advantages of an optimized fiber network management system on our webinar: Top 5 benefits of an optimized fiber network management solution.

What can I use a fiber network management system for?

You can think about the use of a Fiber Network Management System in the context of the lifecycle of a fiber network. Having worked on hundreds of fiber networks over the last two decades, we’ve developed the following steps to understand the stage of a fiber network. 

Each stage in a fiber network project involves a number of tasks. You can use an FNMS to accomplish many of these. 

  • Document the location of fiber cables 
  • View detailed splice information, splice trays and splice schematics 
  • Reserve individual fibers for certain customers 
  • Determine fibers in use and fibers leased to other providers 
  • Troubleshoot fiber breaks 
  • Ensure accurate fiber records 
  • Identify unused fiber 
  • Record splicing records 
  • Provide capacity reports to stakeholders 
  • Determine the number of miles of cable in a tax zone 
  • Determine the number of miles of lit cable in a tax zone
  • Find areas of your network that need preventative maintenance
  • Estimate the cost to build
  • Accurate planning for faster builds and less re-work
  • Respond to sales inquiries faster
  • And many more…. 

Fundamentally, an FNMS empowers you to know what is in your network.  

Who needs to use an FNMS?

Anyone who designs, builds, and operates a fiber optic network needs a Fiber Network Management System. Traditionally, we have seen network operators who run telecommunication companies, mines, universities, cities, utilities, transportation departments, and data centers. 

People who run an FNMS have job titles like Network Operator, Network Technicians, OSP Specialist, OSP Engineer, and more. FNMS are used internally by engineering, sales, marketing and other administrators. Reports generated by an FNMS can go all the way up to the chain to the CEO. 

What should I look for in an FNMS?

There are a few core parts of an FNMS that are essential: 

  • Relational database 
  • Geographical Information System 
  • Data loss prevention
  • Intuitive user interface 

The center of any FNMS should be a well-planned, relational database. The database should have a relational nature to preserve the logical links between elements of your network. Many tools on the market meet these criteria. We recommend finding a tool with a database you can understand (this is your data, after all). Some tools obfuscate table names, making it difficult for you to query the data directly. Find a tool that allows you to make sense of the data yourself if you need to. 

Many elements of the network have important spatial information. Without a map, that spatial information will lose context and is essentially meaningless. For this reason, we recommend a stable Geographic Information System (GIS) as a core part of your FNMS. 

A special note on GIS. More and more network operators are finding GIS as a critical piece of software to understand and plan their business. Choosing a GIS is an important business decision to make that can be thought of as independent from your FNMS. The two work together, but the best choice for an FNMS is one that can work well with any GIS system. You can make your GIS choice independent of your FNMS with an FNMS that is GIS-agnostic. 

Because your network data is a vital asset to your organization, we highly recommend finding an FNMS that prioritizes data loss prevention. Some tools in the market have been known to lose their customer’s data. Tools that promise a seamless multi-user environment are susceptible to data loss and so should be carefully vetted. 

As a final criterion, we recommend finding an FNMS with an intuitive user interface. Entering data, querying a database, and planning new expansions in your network can be time-consuming and detail-oriented. The tools we find most appealing have put a lot of thought into the number of clicks it takes to perform basic tasks, effectively saving your organization significant time and money. 

What are the top reasons that organizations choose an FNMS?

There are many reasons to choose an FNMS, which we have summarized below.  

  • Organization – You’ve already spent the money to create your data…so use it 
  • Engineering – Build the network with confidence when planning is precise 
  • Mobility – Field technicians and engineers with data at their fingertips 
  • Sales & Marketing – Find the prospects, and show the network
  • Maintenance – A “stitch in time…”, you can’t fix what you can’t see
  • Accounting & Taxation – What you don’t know will cost you a lot
  • Restoration – Can you say “Service Level Agreement”?
  • Partnership – More than software, you’ve bought experience and dedication
  • Usability – No doubt about it, this application will do what you need
  • Savings – When it comes down to it, it’s ultimately about money 

What network data does an FNMS contain?

A Fiber Network Management System will store, show, and provide easy reporting for the following: 

  • Cable spatial information 
  • Cable sequential markings 
  • Slack loop location and measurements 
  • Duct bank spatial information
  • Termination ports
  • Splice points
  • Splicing information, splice trays, and splice schematics 

What kind of reports can I generate?

You can generate many reports with a Fiber Network Management System. Here are a few of the critical reports you’ll want to make sure your FNMS can run. 

  • Route Detail - Run a route to find each object along the route and verify route accuracy
  • Taper Report - Plot out future routes by seeing which ports and fibers are available 
  • Leased Fibers - Determine who is leasing each fiber 
  • Hardware / Materials - Lists all the hardware and material types in your network and gives length totals for fiber and cable sheath 
  • Work Order Summary - Status report of the work orders and information related to a work order 
  • Impact Report - Identify which routes will be impacted if a splice point were moved
  • Cable Span Analysis - Reports overall fiber capacity for your entire network
  • Network Statistics - Track the quantity of all your database objects over time; often used for auditing purposes

What are the best practices for keeping my database up to date?

As with any data store, if you put garbage in your database, you will get garbage data out. A good FNMS will make it easy to keep your data up to date and identify when there are issues.

Here are a few specific practices we recommend: 

  1. Know where changes to the physical network are going to be made.  
  2. Establish an internal owner of the database who has the authority to demand updates from field crews and other personnel. 
  3. Thoroughly train editors of the database to understand exactly how to do their job. 
  4. After the data is input, use sample testing to confirm its accuracy.  
  5. Provide regular reports to upper management, focusing on metrics of interest that reference the fiber optic network database.  
  6. Monitor the performance and integrity of the data consistently and often.  
  7. Train and encourage your internal teams to embrace the system and rely on its data. 

How do I get started with fiber optic management software?

There are three main steps to getting started with fiber optic management: 

  1. Evaluate different FNMS software options 
  2. Migrate your network data to the FNMS database
  3. Train your technicians

The first step is to evaluate the different options available in the market. Obviously, we have a bias towards the FNMS we have created in IQGeo. If you are interested in checking this out, visit the Network Manager Telecom overview page. 

After choosing an FNMS, you’ll need to move your network data from its current location to the FNMS database. If your data is already stored in a relational database, we have built tools to make that easy to migrate within a relatively short amount of time. If your data is mostly in drawings and spreadsheets, we can help out there too. We have a data services team that can manually input your data into an FNMS database. 

Finally, you’ll need to train your network technicians on using the FNMS software. You’ll want to put processes in place to ensure data is kept up to date as you maintain your network going forward. IQGeo offers a range of training options, book a demo to get started.  

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Building better networks

While legacy telecom network management solutions still focus on their GIS, IQGeo is different. Our Network Manager and application software focuses on your network, and how you can more flexibly and efficiently plan, design, construct and operate your increasingly complex networks. Whether your building a new fiber and 5G network, modernizing your electricity grid for a renewable future, or delivering safe dependable gas services, IQGeo accelerates time to revenue from a single platform.

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Together with IQGeo, telecom and utility network operators build better networks to transform their business. The IQGeo software is setting new standards for productivity and collaboration that increase revenue, decrease operating costs, improve customer satisfaction, and enhance safety.

Visit the customer stories page to hear more about how IQGeo is helping telecom and utility operators reimagine the role of geospatial software. 

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