Best practices for transitioning to packet-based technologies

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Today, changing technologies and the rise of mobile 5G are forcing utility providers to rethink their business-critical communications networks. To keep pace with the demands of the digital world, underlying communications networks need modernisation, writes Ulrich Schälling, head of business line networks at FNT Software.

TDM-based networks must transform into packet-based networks to meet the pervasive data-centric applications and services of today and tomorrow.
Packet-based networks not only enable new innovations, services, and business opportunities, but current TDM-based products and leased line contracts are approaching end-of-life. Change is not optional.


Transitioning to packet-based networks, however, is often a difficult task to undertake. Delivering telecommunication and network services to critical network infrastructures while simultaneously trying to support transformation initiatives can be cumbersome. To ensure a smooth transition, network operators need solutions and tools that can support both legacy and packet-based technologies side by side, support a seamless changeover to packets when the time is right, and manage the change properly without impacting services.

Before taking any action, network operators must have a clear view of the current network state. Data should be collected from physical and logical resources, services, customers, capacities, and redundancies for full visibility. Next, potential impacts on customers must be analysed prior to any changes to determine if any services should be rerouted to avoid disruption.

Finally, all network changes must be reflected within a central information system. Proper documentation ensures that accurate data is provided to
planning, operation, and fulfillment teams. A unified resource management solution can automate these steps and help network operators successfully execute a seamless transition to packet-based technologies.

Unified resource management

In the continuous cycle of change that occurs during routine network maintenance, network transformations and rollouts, inaccurate information can cause disastrous ripple effects throughout the entire infrastructure. Documenting all changes within a central resource
repository will make network and cable infrastructure rollouts, extensions, and changes easier to plan and more efficient to execute with significantly less manual rework. Especially when it comes to analysing the impact of a change, having a unified resource management system in place can make a world of difference. It puts critical information about all affected services, across all network technologies and hierarchies, at your fingertips. It takes into account essential details, such as redundant links used on underlying
layers. In the absence of unified resource management, where data sources are distributed, analyses will take much longer to perform and produce dubious results, as data quality is questionable. Utility providers are typically managing large, heterogeneous, multi-vendor/multi-technology transport networks in

PACKET-BASED NETWORKS NOT ONLY ENABLE NEW INNOVATIONS,
SERVICES, AND BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES, BUT CURRENT TDM BASED PRODUCTS AND LEASED LINE CONTRACTS ARE APPROACHING END OF LIFE.

combination with extensive cable and outside plant infrastructures. These complex networks are ideally managed via a centralised resource management system that covers all physical end-to-end connections. This system should include the splices and patch cables used to implement the end-to-end signal routes, as well as the active transport network nodes
and logical connections and services built upon the passive infrastructure.

A unified resource management approach, which is predicated on one integrated data model, makes it possible to categorise and describe if and how physical cable connections are being used by the transport network, which capacity is available on physical or logical layers to route new connections, and what is impacted by an outage or a planned change.

Utilities that operate their own mobile networks in particular require a unified resource management system. Whether their networks are based on private LTE or private mobile radio technologies, whether they are for internal connection purposes, or whether they deliver connectivity services to other utilities – e.g. to connect smart meters or other IoT devices – they need a resource management solution that will effectively manage both physical resources such as antenna and other mobile devices per site and also cells with assigned configuration data. From FTTA and C-RAN architecture upgrades, to laying fibre and connecting BBU pool resources
through front haul and backhaul to the core network, there are countless steps that must be taken to ensure data is properly transported over mobile networks to geographically dispersed users.

Implementing a unified resource management solution is critical for supporting and improving daily operations. Proper documentation within a central repository will keep network operators apprised of available resources throughout the network, optimise planning, and will accelerate troubleshooting. From a service assurance perspective, this is important
because it’s the best defence against service interruption. From a planning perspective, it’s important to base changes and rollouts on accurate as-built documentation.

Process automation

A network transition also requires automated processes to support the needs of a utility provider. The two most important process domains supported by a unified resource management solution are planning
and engineering, and service assurance.

Planning and engineering focuses on the domain where transformations are planned and addresses the automation of the overall transition process, the optimisation of the capacity utilisation, and the increase of rollout efficiency. Service assurance ensures business impact is minimised
during the transformation process and focuses on operational efficiency, customer satisfaction, and SLA compliance, as the unified resource repository always provides accurate data to all involved parties.

A unified resource management solution can address common planning
and engineering challenges such as transforming mission-critical networks
without damaging existing businesses and services. Network rollouts can be planned, and all changes can be directly reflected within a central resource repository to keep data up to date for all upcoming transformation steps. To plan new connections or to reroute existing services or paths, auto-routing capabilities can be applied from a service layer across nodes and sites down to the passive infrastructure to ensure connections are properly routed end-to-end.

A unified resource management solution can also address common service
assurance challenges that arise during a transition from TDM to packet data
networks. To maintain mission-critical network operations and avoid downtime during this transition, a unified resource management solution can provide immediate impact analysis across all layers to identify affected services in case of failure. Therefore, regardless of whether it’s a cable break or equipment failure, network operators will get a list of the affected
services and affected customers. The same applies to planned changes during a maintenance window – customers and internal organisations can be notified of maintenance activities upfront and services can be rerouted as needed.

Overall, transitioning to packet-based networks is essential for utility providers to remain competitive in a changing industry. Achieving this transformation while continuously providing reliable, high-quality services to customers can be possible with the right management software.

A unified resource management solution will provide full transparency across the network, enabling network operators to document, plan, and manage the active transport network equipment with its logical connections and services built upon the inside and outside plant cable
infrastructure during their transition to packet-based networks.

A unified resource management solution will also provide accurate information on the availability of all resources to ensure service fulfilment processes run efficiently. Best of all, utility providers will experience many benefits from using a unified resource management solution including optimised CAPEX based on a consistent planning approach, immediate impact analysis resulting in reduced mean time to repair (MTTR) and minimised OPEX, and high service quality with accelerated delivery processes based on increased automation.

About the author

Ulrich Schälling is head of business line networks at FNT Software. In this role, he is responsible for the strategy and business for FNT’s innovative
software products in the telecommunications market. Before joining FNT, he worked in various roles at Alcatel-Lucent in the OSS and system integration business. Schälling holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering and has more than 25 years of experience in the telecommunications market.