When it comes to the different types of networks, research shows that fiber provides best in class consumer broadband experience—offering reliability, bandwidth, latency, and downstream and upstream speeds.
But a new study from the Fiber Broadband Association also shows fiber also provides low operational expenses for network operators. On the latest Fiber for Breakfast live video series, members of the FBA Technology Committee discussed the new study, showing why fiber has far lower costs associated with operational expenses than other access technologies do.
“Fiber is the answer to reducing operational costs in addition to its other advantages,” said John George, senior director of solutions and professional services at OFS.
The study, which was released last month, developed a methodology to quantify how operational expenses impact three different network media: DSL over copper, HFC and fiber to the home. Researchers analyzed different components that contribute to operational expenses, such as operations, churn management and customer and network maintenance.
They found that all-fiber networks saved $54 per year per homes passed versus HFC and $91 per year per homes passed versus DSL. Over a 10 year period, the savings accumulated to $540 per homes passed versus HFC and $910 per homes passed versus DSL.
The biggest underlying factor is fiber’s durability. Fiber is resilient in different weather events and other disasters—including fire—and is not prone to corrosion like copper wire.
“Maintenance for copper-based networks increases over time,” said Barry Walton, solutions architect at Corning Optical Communications. “There’s going to be a point soon—if not yesterday—where providers are looking to the case of cutting over from a copper network to a fiber network.”
Another benefit of fiber is its simple architecture. Operational costs rise as the number of active (powered) components in a network. As these components increase, so does potential failure points, powering costs and maintenance costs for all.
In coax-based networks—even with those running deep fiber networks—nodes can only be about 2 km from one another. Older networks have up to five amplifiers from the final node to the home. For DSL networks, the maximum distance to deliver gigabit service over new copper is about 1,000 feet. For fiber, typical PON range is around 20 km.
“When it comes to the OpEx side, all fiber networks are just simpler,” said Mark Boxer, applications engineer manager at OFS. “There are fewer powered nodes, and if you have fewer of those, you have much higher reliability. Those faster speeds are both upstream and downstream. And if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that people use bandwidth on the upstream side and that is going to be an increasing factor moving forward.”
Reliability is also an important factor when it comes to operational expenses. Churn management and truck rolls account for about 85% of operational expenses. As more and more people work and learn from home, having strong reliability with high capacity is going to create a better customer experience—and being able to access that network remotely will provide significant savings. While fiber may be more expensive to build in some cases, people will be willing to pay more for a reliable product—especially as working and learning from home becomes the new normal.
“If you look at all the elements going on—if you look at reliability and the overall network especially during COVID-19—we’re becoming more and more dependent on a broadband connection,” Walton said. “A lot of people would see broadband as a means to log on to social networks, but as we’re seeing it’s becoming an essential service.”
The study was the first of its kind to examine operational costs specifically when it comes to a network build. While capital expenditures—things like materials, back-office software and equipment—are easy to assess, operational costs have largely been ignored.
By examining operational expenses—both in the short- and long-term—will help make the case for fiber with not only individual operators, but legislators as well.
“Anyone who is looking at a business case, looking at the capital costs is relatively easier,” George said. “Our intention was that the results of this study would be used by service providers, policymakers and anyone who is comparing the technologies.”