The right network planning tools can help operators meet bandwidth challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak.

COVID-19 has thrown the spotlight on networks and connectivity. Home working, distance learning and videoconferencing –  the popularity of Google’s Zoom app has soared – is the new normal. People need reliable broadband more than ever. Without it, a global recession is much more likely.

There’s also increased demand for online entertainment. School closures and children stuck at home – not to mention adults with more time on their hands – will inevitably mean more gorging on Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and other video streaming services, particularly at weekends. The recent launch of Disney+ is another attraction. Fans of cloud-based video gaming will also want nippy latency times to complement oodles of bandwidth.

Preparing networks for COVID-19

Some analysts think that operators, if they play their network cards right in the consumer space, can buy themselves some immunity to the stock‑price carnage suffered by many other industry sectors. By providing resilient broadband in the face of increasing demand – so this thinking goes – operators may well increase sales. Many households, which previously saw a limited need for bandwidth, will surely be tempted by more expensive broadband packages that offer faster speeds. It’s a powerful argument.

 

Some operators have also shown admirable willingness to lend a hand. The UK’s main internet service providers, through a financial deal with the government, have removed data caps for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak. They’ve also pledged financial support for vulnerable people, struggling to pay bills, so they can stay connected in these times of home sheltering and self‑isolation.

 

But if operators are to meet all this extra bandwidth demand in a timely and cost-efficient manner, they’ll need a bang up-to-date network inventory. Not only so they can more easily identify any unused capacity but also to make sure that resources are allocated where they are needed most. This will avoid unnecessary capex and put less strain on infrastructure supply chains, which operators fear will almost certainly be disrupted by COVID-19.

 

And let’s not forget about the needs of national governments and utilities in the private sector. They require robust networks for emergency response and disaster management. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations Agency – after the World Health Organisation declared coronavirus a pandemic – released new guidelines for developing and implementing existing National Emergency Telecommunications Plans.

 

The advice from the ITU to national authorities is to carry out emergency telecommunication exercises to make sure networks are up to scratch. Measures range from mock exercises on the laptop and tabletop through to full-scale drills. The ITU even published a Tabletop Emergency Simulation Guide.

One aim of the guide is to identify whether networks have redundant communications capacity in place. It’ll clearly help disaster response efforts, then, if operators have a clear and accurate visual representation of all their network assets. In this way they’ll be able to identify quickly any shortfalls in redundant capacity.  So how preparing networks for COVID 19 should look like?

 

Vaccinate networks against overheating

More than ever, in this time of crisis, network planning and allocation of resources needs to be done with a razor-sharp eye on return-on-investment (ROI). Optimum rollout of fibre, which provides near unlimited bandwidth, is then key. Not only in the network core, but also in the radio access network (RAN) to support 4G and 5G. People in lockdown will not suddenly stop using cellular connectivity, particularly in households where Wi-Fi capacity is getting squeezed.

 

The first step to protect networks from keeling over is to provide operations staff with clear and accurate visibility of current assets. For network planning purposes, it’s extremely useful to know where all the network assets are – outside and indoor plant – and how they contribute to service fulfilment.

 

In terms of fibre, then, it’s vital to know the whereabouts of splice closures and splitters across the entire cable network. Identifying the location of ducts, street cabinets and manholes is another must. Similarly, in the RAN, detail is key. Ops teams need to know where all the baseband units and remote radio heads are. Knowledge of room equipment and its location – inside plant – will be another boon to network planning. 

Better still if all this information is represented on a digital map. Network planners can then identify where it’s possible to reuse existing infrastructure in order to cope with rising traffic volumes. This is a great way to reduce capex.

 

But let’s go another step. What if a network planning app, working in tandem with this up-to‑date and exhaustive asset inventory, could give a detailed lowdown on how much investment is needed to ramp up capacity to meet demand? In other words, all the costs associated with devices, cable, pipe and trench digging are individually itemised.

 

Moreover, wouldn’t it be fantastic if this network planning app could then provide a readymade plan for investment, which meets the operator’s ROI criteria? These capabilities are valuable when it’s business-as-usual, but in these uncertain times they take on a new importance.

Thankfully for operators, top-notch network inventory and planning solutions of this sort are not in the realms of wishful thinking. They are available, right now, from OSS SunVizion portfolio, which includes, among others, service fulfillment solution, which we write more about in the entry about enterprise revenue.