Cables carry the data needed to light our cities, make cloud computing possible, and enable billions of devices to function (be it miniature sensors, Industry 4.0 machines, or huge industrial facilities). Some 2.5 quintillion bytes of information are transported through cables every day. That’s equivalent to the storage capacity of 36 million iPads.

How you manage these cables matters — a lot. Cable management is crucial to efficiently manage fiber rollouts, which are needed to support the requirements of business and residential customers and the rollout of new technologies, such as 5G.

To achieve efficient management of operations, fast and consistent planning, and enable future expansion, an inside view of network infrastructure is necessary. Let’s take a look at the current and future drivers of modern cable management systems and how a central data repository, based on a unified data model, can provide transparency across all cable and network infrastructures from inside plant management through to outside plant management.

Cost Optimization for Network Operations and Expansions

Cable management provides a complete view of the entire passive network infrastructure, whether it’s building cabling, a campus network, or a national supply network. By doing so, it optimizes the cost of cable network expansion and operation. Advanced cable management of today is a far cry from traditional cable management of the past. Today, it can’t just be about the passive infrastructure; it must be combined with the management of physical, logical, and even virtual resources to form a unified or hybrid infrastructure management. This approach brings together and documents all physical elements and device dependencies and allows the complete stack to be monitored, from physical hardware to the mapping of the services and processes that are managed and enabled by the cables and various networks.

Comprehensive, precise, and target group-specific information can be viewed at the touch of a button, including where cables are laid, which routes are crossed, and where splice closures, main distributors, and sub-distributors are located. The aim is to manage end-to-end processes. Cable management provides the solution, with signal tracing being an important function in this context. Modern cable management solutions that combine passive infrastructure data with physical and logical resource information drastically increase operational efficiency and significantly reduce operating costs and expenditures for incident processes through automated impact analysis of services and customers affected by failures or outages.

Cable management solutions make a significant contribution to greater transparency and help to identify which services are affected by a fault and the possible impact on service level agreements (SLAs). Fault resolution can be handled efficiently, with the systems generating recommendations on how to respond. For example, they can tell you who needs to be informed of the shutdown, which people and services are affected, and where exactly the repair team should be sent by using optimcal time-domain reflectometer (OTDR) measurement data and calculating the geo-coordinates of the fault location. This knowledge minimizes both downtime and costs.

Accelerated Planning

The rich functionality of cable management solutions makes it possible to plan rollouts and extensions based on accurate as-is documentation. This is significant because you are performing tasks properly from the beginning, enabling you to avoid time-consuming rework and truck rolls. Graphical geo-referenced network representations, signal tracing, and auto-routing, plus an integrated change management process for handling all changes, facilitate routine tasks.

The future of cable management includes supporting providers in their sales and marketing activities, thereby enabling the best possible use of existing capacities. For example, data analysis and geographic information system (GIS) mapping allow instant insights into whether the available capacity is actually being used. Marketing campaigns can then target households or businesses with new services or add-ons. Advanced cable management, in the form of a unified resource inventory, makes it possible to manage infrastructure with the click of a mouse, centrally document all components, create logical links, identify dependencies, and be proactive. That’s the future.

Integrated Systems for Increased Flexibility

Today, tools are deployed to document and manage inside and outside plant network infrastructure. Spreadsheets and database systems are commonly used for storing information about the services delivered via the cables while drawing programs, CAD tools, GIS maps, or traditional building plans are the popular options for recording the physical location of cabling. Alongside the range of diverse tools, many different entities — often including external planning and construction firms — create documentation in their own very specific planning, architectural, and surveying systems.

The disadvantages are obvious, as the data is not integrated, it is frequently outdated, and services cannot be automated. What’s missing is transparency. For every update and every change, the relevant data needs to be added in the various systems, usually by hand, then manually collated and transferred to the digital environment. This process is time-consuming, error-prone, ties up resources, and wastes money.

This type of documentation is no longer sustainable and has actually become a liability since today’s cable infrastructure is subject to huge challenges that traditional methods are not capable of addressing. For example, users need huge amounts of bandwidth at every location and at all times, making network infrastructure systemically important today. Remote working, grid and edge computing, smart homes, the IoT, medical networks, and AI are among the big trends facing network providers and businesses.

The ability to change network routes as needed is increasingly important. Managers must ask themselves: Does the existing documentation offer enough visibility to quickly identify whether connections and data flows can be diverted? Is there a point-to-point connection or is a connection protected by a redundant route? How can gaps in the network be closed quickly, and what diversion options are there?

Complexity Continues to Increase

There has been a deceptive trend in recent years toward less complex and diverse physical cable infrastructure due partly to the convergence of technologies, such as telephony and data using a single physical cable in the LAN domain. However, that’s no cause for complacency with regard to infrastructure management because complexity is growing as a result of new, different types of cables. These include hybrid cables (copper for power, fiber optic for data) combined with pre-laid ducts and micro-duct systems. Companies are also increasingly looking for solutions other than stock cables, preferring customized cables that can serve multiple functions.

Alongside customer-specific cabling, cable management now takes more account of the services supported by the cable and the quality of those services. This reflects market reality — the number of services is rising exponentially together with the increasing mix of technologies of traditional telco technologies and IT technics, which require operators to have a proper overview.

There are already some 27 billion IoT devices in circulation, according to Gartner’s market researchers. That equates to three devices per person. By 2025, the number of IoT devices in use is set to top 75 billion. The majority of such devices are connected wirelessly and use conventional or rechargeable batteries. However, new mobile communications standards, such as 5G and 6G, and technologies like Sigfox and LoRaWAN, are indirectly driving cable management efforts. Every cellphone mast and distribution point also needs a fiber connection.

The Smart Future of Infrastructure Management

Demands on cable infrastructure management are rising, with the three key requirements being convenient planning, support for decision-making, and extensive management automation. Meeting this challenge calls for a centralized data model across the broad range of technologies and resources, powerful planning tools, and graphical support from management dashboards, together with geo-referenced mapping to allow faster and easier interpretation of this complex mix of different type of data.

Data is often populated in the system from a wide range of sources, including Excel sheets, upstream systems (such as tools used by external planning firms), and surveying systems, used by the contractors who lay the conduits and cables. Future-proof cable management solutions will therefore provide open interfaces and the means to integrate with different data sources and data models. To facilitate integration into the existing environment, cable management solutions must be equipped as standard with extract – transform – load (ETL) capabilities. This will ensure external data is correctly loaded and mapped to the preconfigured data model.

There is a growing desire and need to document changes to infrastructure very easily. For example, using a smart mobile app to quickly record the replacement of a patch without needing to log onto a computer. The data is then available immediately in the centralized repository. Future-ready cable management will check the integrity of the network infrastructure data and flag any errors. Visual representation of cabling is also becoming more important as it facilitates documentation and the geo-referenced fault localization but also supports graphical impact analysis, network capacity management, and the planning of expansions and rollouts.

Overall, rapid growth of network infrastructures, increasing complexity due to new technologies with additional use cases, and rising security and availability requirements make one thing abundantly clear — a holistic view across the entire network infrastructure is key for the efficient management of operational as well as planning and rollout processes. Future-ready infrastructure management means complete transparency across all cable and network infrastructures from inside plant management through to outside plant management. The ideal solution should provide the following features and functions.

  • An integrated, central data model that encompasses data, relationships, and dependencies across all technologies and layers from the building level through physical, logical, and virtual assets and resources to applications and services, including business services.
  • This unified resource repository will provide a holistic and consistent view on the network, and telecom operators will benefit when it comes to operations and service assurance, design, planning, and capacity management, as well as fulfillment and orchestration of their network infrastructure resources and services.
  • Interfaces to source systems together with an ETL-staging area for data cleansing prior to import.
  • Continuous end-to-end signal tracing across the entire cable infrastructure in both actual and planning views, based on the relevant geo-referenced nodes and routes in the GIS representation.
  • Immediate impact analysis, as well as faster fault analysis and repair, based on seamless integration between the physical network infrastructure and the assigned connections and services on logical and service layers.
  • Efficient planning and analysis of redundant circuits, because protected services need to be based on diverse routed connections not only on the logical layers (active network resources) but also on the cable layer (passive network infrastructure).
  • Efficient ways to manage maintenance or fault and repair tasks — for example, by planning the exchange or replacement of components. By using this planning mode, work orders for the field force teams are automatically created to execute the tasks.
  • Auto-routing capabilities on tray, duct, and cable level enable optimal planning and routing of connections. Workorders for patches and splices, required to implement the planned connections, are automatically created within the planning mode.  

A geo-referenced visualization of the network infrastructure is provided out-of-the-box to support as-is and planning modes. In addition to this geo-referenced representation, dedicated, task-specific graphical and schematic applications are required to efficiently execute activities and tasks relating to ducts, duct bundles, splice enclosures, cassettes and splice plans, distributor assignment, and cable and fiber details, as well as for the management of assets, equipment, and components.