Embracing Resiliency

For years the industry used the word redundancy when talking about how we protected our networks. The primary aspects of redundancy are having multiple fiber routes in place so that areas don’t become isolated if a fiber is cut or having enough spare electronics to quickly recover from problems.

But in recent years, we’ve started to talk about resiliency, which encompasses redundancy but means a whole lot more. Resiliency means taking proactive steps to prepare against reasonably expected problems of all sorts. There are many examples of how network owners are thinking in terms of resiliency.

For example, we’ve recently started seeing prolonged power outages or brownouts in Texas, parts of California, and elsewhere. This is due to a number of reasons like aging electrical grids, hotter temperatures putting stress on local electric networks or worsening winter ice storms. We’ve seen fiber network owners deal with this problem in several ways. One is to design networks with fewer powered locations. This is one of the biggest benefits of fiber PON networks compared to active electronics – but this can be applied to any network design with good planning. Fewer powered nodes mean fewer sites that need backup power and generators.

Another way to increase resiliency is the increased use of solar power. For small devices needing power, solar is a good alternative to wiring to the grid. But even for larger devices and locations, a good solar array can provide enough power to keep batteries charged.

One of the newest problems hitting networks in many parts of the country is the increase in average temperature and an increase in hot days each year. There are some clever solutions to the heat problem. One is to use reflective paint on huts and other devices to keep heat out – this can be very effective for larger air-conditioned huts. Another strategy for smaller network elements like cabinets is to install shade over the unit by deploying what looks like a sail. In some extreme cases, we’re seeing new kinds of cabinets on the market that come with air-conditioned doors to hold down the heat inside of a unit.

Much of the west is seeing a lot more fires than in recent years. One of the most commonsense strategies being used is to severely cut back on vegetation near huts and cabinets to decrease the vulnerability to fire damage. I also have clients who are more aggressive in areas with aerial wires to keep up with tree trimming programs.

We’ve also seen larger and more frequent floods in recent decades, including in areas that never had bad floods before. The most immediate step to protect against flooding is to make sure to have no electronics in basements or even on first floors if avoidable. I’ve not seen it yet, but I expect more network owners will consider a step taken for many years by telcos located in hurricane areas, which is putting huts and cabinets on stilts to keep them out of range of floodwaters.

I’ve also been having a lot more discussions with clients in recent years about burying networks. Most network builders have elected the lowest-cost option when building a network, and this has often meant putting fiber on poles. But when considering the total life cycle cost of operating the network, it’s becoming clear that in many cases fiber is a lower-cost option. I have one client that lost a new fiber network to fires last year and is replacing all routes with buried fiber even though the cost is significantly higher.

Another aspect of resiliency that is becoming more important is to have a mutual aid plan – to be part of a group that will respond when there is a network disaster. This means providing aid to others when there are problems, but having a swarm of technicians to help fix problems in your own network can be a lifesaver.

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