For most people, COVID-19 has affected every aspect of our lives. December 2019 was the unrealized calm before the storm, and since then, COVID continues to run its course throughout our society and little if any part of our daily life remains unaffected. COVID has changed the way we interact with friends and family, the way we shop, the way we do school and work, and so much more. Like many manufacturers, we have seen changes in our operations as well.
All types of entities are now looking for the most innovative fiber-optic connectivity solutions, including internet service providers, telcos and cable providers, electric and water utilities, data centers, enterprises, mining, and oil and gas providers. COVID has forced most of these entities to dramatically ramp up their fiber presence to support the workforce shift from being in the office or field to a remote, home-based workforce. As internet providers scrambled to bring more bandwidth from large office buildings to individual residences, the demand for fiber-optic gear and the technicians to install it increased rapidly. This demand put a strain on many manufacturers with distant supply chains as deliveries came to a complete halt and delays seemed to be never-ending.
The surge of fiber connectivity demand combined with the impact of COVID on workforces in countries worldwide have caused shortages of the products needed to keep up with the service providers' demand. Fiber-optic cables were in high demand, and delivery on some cable types continue to be 26 weeks or more. The distribution boxes, where cables are terminated, have seen the same delays.
Other components required for fiber connectivity are pre-connectorized cables and fiber slack boxes. These cables have connectors already installed on them, come in fixed lengths, and just simply need to be plugged in. But due to their fixed length, there is often leftover cable, which is unsightly and needs to be put in another box to be protected and organized, especially at the side of a house.
However, there is an innovative solution to this problem, All-In-One (AIO) fusion splicer technology. This technology enables technicians to craft custom-length fiber-optic cables in the field to the exact length needed using the most widely accepted, best-practice technology and the same method used to produce factory-made, pre-connectorized fiber-optic cables. That process uses a fusion splicer that “melts” the fiber-optic cable to the connector on the job site.
Fusion splicer technology enables fiber technicians to provide top-quality, custom-length cables quickly, reducing the need for extensive inventories of pre-connectorized cables and boxes on their truck. The current times have shown that using multiple pre-connectorized components for fiber-optic installation can leave a network vulnerable to supply chain delays and inventory outages, hindering installations.
Many service providers have realized that relying on a pre-connectorized solution makes them dependent on multiple vendors and leaves them scrambling for alternative interoperable components, which can be quite challenging. Because of this issue, many providers have explored alternatives and quickly realized they could take back control of their deployment capabilities by switching to field-installable splice-on connectors and reducing the components needed for both an installation and the required gear on each technician's van.
AIO fusion splicer technology is so easy to use that it enables copper/coax technicians who have never worked with fiber before to be fully trained in a matter of hours. In this scenario, a technician needs only a box of fiber-optic cable and a box of connectors to complete their installations. Utilizing this method frees truck space and reduces the cost associated with all the truck's pre-connectorized inventory and that in the warehouse. The reduction in product inventory alone offsets the cost of the fusion splicer in a matter of months.
This splicer technology has been embraced by hiring managers, trainers, installation supervisors, and workforce managers for multiple reasons. We have continued to see how it has dramatically benefited workforces in the following ways:
- Enables new hires to ramp up from training to production speed quickly
- Appeals to the younger workforce by enabling the use of technology vs. tedious repetition
- Extends the capabilities and adds years of service to technicians approaching the end of their careers
- Increases the overall quality of a workforce's output
- Better defines clear installation metrics and installation times.
With AIO technology, fiber service providers have become more self-reliant and have enabled their workforces to become more capable of installing and supporting their networks. When there is a fiber outage due to weather or accidents, some large customers have service-level agreements (SLAs) that qualify them to credit for not having service and, in most cases, are enforced on an hourly basis. Having a workforce that responds quickly helps reduce the downtimes, reducing or eliminating SLA penalties.
Adopting this type of fusion splicing technology industry wide could not only create a more productive and more cost-effective workforce, but it could also allow service providers, data centers, and other telecommunications companies to serve their customers in the best way.
Dave Schuman is Vice President of Service Provider Markets at America Ilsintech based in Carrollton, TX. Dave has 20+ years' experience supporting fiber-based solutions to the service provider space at the network transport level as well as the outside plant and customer premises spaces. Active in SCTE on the Standards and Cable Tech committees, Dave has also been cited in industry magazines with articles based around best practices for fiber installations and copper/coax to fiber workforce transformation solutions. With customer solutions, his top priority each and every day, delivering best practice solutions to the USA and Canada's service providers is the goal of his team.