Moving Beyond Bandwidth
Lessons Learned from Fiber Deployment

By: Prayson Pate

Consumers want faster internet, and that means fiber to the home. Service providers are answering this demand with gigabit passive optical network (GPON) technologies. GPON is fast and inexpensive. But internet access is about more than speed. It’s about the entire user experience. Here’s my personal fiber broadband journey, along with some lessons for service providers.

Lesson 1: You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression

I was all ready to move away from cable broadband to fiber. Luckily one of the national fiber providers came through the neighborhood with signup specials. There was no cost for installation, so I decided to give it a try.

The initial installation and turnup went great for me, but not so well for some of my neighbors. They went from a working service to no internet. Maybe it was a configuration error on the part of the operator, and maybe it was due to end-user error. At any rate, some of them switched back to cable, and the fiber provider was out the cost of the installation and service calls. Plus, the provider had burned a bridge with those potential customers.

Lesson to learn: Ensuring a smooth start to a service is the first step to winning a customer. And that means a full-featured management system and automated procedures to prevent misconfiguration and missing steps during installation and turnup.

Lesson 2: Change Wi-Fi from a Problem to an Asset

My new service was blazing fast, and everything was great - for a while. Then I started to get periodic outages for no apparent reason. I was working from home at the time, and these outages would interrupt voice and video calls.

Poor Wi-Fi is often the cause of issues like these. I had installed my own Wi-Fi and was able to verify that it was not the problem by bypassing the Wi-Fi with a cable. Most people don’t have the time or ability to do that type of troubleshooting themselves.

Lesson to learn: Offering managed Wi-Fi at an attractive price is a good way to drive more revenue and prevent service calls. In this case, the operator would know that the issue was not the Wi-Fi.

Lesson 3: It’s Better to Tell the Customer There is a Problem than Vice Versa

The operator installed an optical network terminal (ONT) in my home to terminate the GPON access. An ONT is also known as an optical network unit (ONU).

I eliminated Wi-Fi as the problem as described above, and I verified there was not a larger service outage. I then had to repower the ONT to restore service. That’s a very poor user experience.

During one of the outages I used the ONT login to look at its status. I could access the fiber interface and see that the optical power looked good, but that the optical line was showing errors. When I reported this to the service provider, the support person said that she could also see both the errors and outages. I was quite taken aback at this news. My service provider had the means to see the errors and had failed to report them to me or take any action.

Lesson to learn: Sophisticated equipment monitoring and reporting systems are wasted if you don’t leverage them by taking proactive action on network issues. Find and fix the problem before the customer sees it.

Lesson 4: Correlate those Errors

During my first service call the technician came out and replaced the ONT. That was a logical response to the fact that there were errors on the line when the power was good. What was not logical was what happened when the errors and outages continued. The second technician came out and changed the ONT again, because that was the standard procedure. In this case, however, the problem was elsewhere.

Lesson to learn: The device reporting the errors is often not the culprit. Correlation of errors across the network can help identify the root cause and prevent chasing red herrings.

Lesson 5: Know Before You Go

The second technician also checked the optical levels and verified that they were within acceptable ranges. Even so, he respliced the optical cable both inside the house and at the curb. I asked him why he was doing that and he told me that sometimes the ONTs report errors even when the optical levels are good. I suppose that’s possible,


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