It seems that every week we learn of a new alternative fibre network provider (altnet) appearing in the UK market. These agile companies are spinning up quickly to deliver high-speed broadband services to traditionally under-served areas and support our rapidly evolving digital economy. These are truly unprecedented times that create exciting opportunities for these new suppliers and their customers.
Fibre planning and design
Often starting from scratch, altnet providers are working quickly to develop a software strategy that supports their fibre planning and design requirements and at IQGeo we are fortunate to be already working with several of these ambitious UK organisations. They have chosen the IQGeo software as their geospatial platform and we have been working closely with them to develop optimised network management processes that meet their unique business requirements.
The PIA imperative
One resource that is essential for virtually all altnet providers is the Openreach Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) environment. This database of ducts and poles enables altnets to understand the current Openreach network infrastructure and use it efficiently in their own fibre rollout planning. Working with our sponsor customers and Openreach, IQGeo has been gaining insights and developing strategies for fast moving altnet providers. While there are still many moving pieces, one thing that is clear to us and our customers is the need for an integrated approach to PIA that supports all the operational processes and stakeholders.
Openreach are developing a new API that aims to replace their current labour intensive processes built on a portal infrastructure. The new API is a major step forward and if integrated in a well-considered way will create seamless, automated processes that are critical to the long-term success of resource constrained altnet providers.
An integrated PIA strategy
Given the current PIA Portal, existing deployments are often cumbersome, inefficient, and costly with different processes requiring different workflows and resources. Using the new API it’s possible to create a truly integrated solution that facilitates the seamless flow of PIA and related data with different teams and processes. However, this can only happen if the altnets and their partners have the right vision and technology. Simply re-deploying the new API with the same siloed workflows will fail to capitalise on the potential and could compromise the network build-out and maintenance efficiency of the altnet operators.
In a typical integrated scenario, an operator may start by downloading network asset data from Openreach for a specific geographic location to prepare for an onsite survey. Combining the Openreach pole and duct information with their own network data this can be shared on mobile devices with field staff or contractors for their site survey. Field teams inspect the site and identify any defects, capturing photographic and written evidence to record a defect that is sent directly back to Openreach from the field.
Engineers in the office also have immediate access to the field information so they can prepare the fibre rollout designs and submit “Notice of intent” (NOI) applications identifying the ducts and poles they want to use. With the appropriate information back from Openreach, additional survey and construction workflow processes can be prepared and scheduled, and field teams are, once again, given the key information they need on their mobile devices. They begin the construction process and capture and submit the as-built information back to their engineering team as well as the required evidence to Openreach, completing a seamless data roundtrip. Multiple processes like this are happening in parallel across different areas and often with different contractors.
Meeting business KPIs with PIA
If all the processes in the scenario above were separated as is the case with many of the current manual PIA deployments, you end up with a very siloed, high-touch workflow that cannot be easily scaled, compromising collaboration and process efficiency.
Our experience with altnets and Openreach tells us that there is a much better way. We are using our mobile-first geospatial software to help our customers integrate the PIA data into all their survey, construction and maintenance processes creating a single integrated platform that is shared by all stakeholders. We are planning to seamlessly integrate and automate the NOI creation, evidence submission, and defect management requirements from Openreach with their own workflow activities. This maximises collaboration between the teams and increases operational efficiency which streamlines construction processes, and crucially, accelerates time-to-revenue.
The evolution of the Openreach PIA environment can create a competitive advantage for those altnet providers that take a holistic view when deploying fibre planning and design, as well as construction and maintenance workflow management. An integrated, end-to-end geospatial strategy not only serves short-term rollout priorities, but it also builds a very strong foundation for highly efficient on-going operations as these ambitious altnet providers grow and expand into new geographies.
To learn about how IQGeo's award winning geospatial software - Network Manager Telecoms can help support an integrated PIA strategy for your fibre planning and design requirements, click here or request a demo to see it in action with the IQGeo team.
This blog post was originally published on January 13, 2021. Updated February 17, 2022