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Home | New Service Delivery | GE Energy, John Turner
John TurnerSmallworld, big solution

John Turner, Global Product Line Leader for GE’s Smallworld solutions for the telecoms industry, talks to Intercomms about how Smallworld Network Inventory is being used by telecoms operators to bring fibre to the home

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John Turner is global Product Line Manager for Communications solutions at GE Energy, responsible for the definition, marketing, and development of the Smallworld Network Inventory product portfolio for the communications industry. He joined GE five years ago, after over six years at Nortel Networks running an R&D department specialising in advanced network and service management applications. Previous to this, he worked for Logica, the software consultancy group, for over ten years on numerous client projects.

Q: How does Smallworld work?
A: Smallworld is primarily a planning and engineering tool; a geographically based, network documentation and inventory tool for the physical network infrastructure. It is the key to understanding details of the outside plant network; exactly where it is and how it is connected, allowing the user to understand the capabilities of the physical network and how it can support broadband services being delivered out to the customer. It supports DSL over copper but increasingly customers are using Smallworld to plan their fibre rollout either to the node, the kerb or the home.

Smallworld plans and documents how fibres are put into the ground to grow the network and connect new housing estates or business parks, taking account of the underground structure needed in terms of trenches, conduits, microconduits and the fibres within those, and how they need to be connected at various street cabinets and splice enclosures. Smallworld is used to record exactly where the fibre is laid so that there is a record in place to support dial-before-you-dig. If a utility company needs to dig up the road to put, for example, a new gas pipe in place, Smallworld can say exactly where the fibres are running to prevent the cable being damaged.

Q: How do you differentiate Smallworld from your competitors?
A: Other systems that look after the logical inventory have an abstract view of the physical network, but only to a certain level of knowledge both in terms of location and physical connectivity. A lot of them will record the location of the active managed network elements. Smallworld however will also record the passive network that isn’t identifiable from network management systems.

Smallworld is also a very well established product. Perhaps our biggest differentiator is that we have very good reference sites with very large-scale deployed solutions with Deutsche Telekom in Germany, Telstra in Australia, Telkom South Africa and Swisscom to name but a few. These are already in place and working with thousands of users. Deutsche Telekom for example have 3500 engineers who use it on a daily basis and another 3500 people within their organisation who access the data through their intranet.

Q: How do you make information held by Smallworld available to others in the organisation, for sales and marketing and customer services for example?
A: There are probably three key ways. First is system integration, where we would integrate with a logical inventory system like Amdoc’s Cramer or Oracle’s Metasolv system. We are able to generate what we call bearers; the end-to-end physical path between an exchange and an end customer which is effectively the lowest level of the logical hierarchy that these logical network inventory systems would manage. They are then able to build the customer services on top of that but with confidence that the physical network is actually in place to support them. A second way is that we have developed a number of internet and intranet applications that allow users to access the data in a query-view-print kind of way, so that they are able to browse and obtain the data they require to run, for example, a marketing campaign that needs to understand where the network goes. The third way would be sharing of data throughout the organisation. We have a proven integration with SAP, for instance, to share asset and financial data; we have applications to support field engineers accessing and updating the network data remotely; and we have a SOA based server to support the provision of Web services utilising Smallworld’s functionality and data for business process integration.

Q: How is Smallworld changing?
A: We are getting continuous demands from our customers in terms of how they want to see the product take forward. Our main customers quite often develop functionality themselves and then we put it back into the product. We work closely with them to develop the product. We are also looking to see how we can extend our capability into mission critical environments. One of the things we are seeing is that with broadband access, the knowledge of the physical access network infrastructure is becoming more and more important. We are looking to extend our capability to support the automation of service prequalification for customer requests, by providing information about the line connection available for each potential customer. The physical resources can then be assigned to support the delivery of these requested broadband services. Rather than Smallworld being a backroom planning and engineering tool, we are becoming a mission critical part of the service provisioning process.

Q: How are customers implementing Smallworld to support FTTH?
A: The Smallworld system has been widely deployed in Denmark by the numerous companies building FTTH networks in this region. This is currently the most active territory worldwide for FTTH build and broadband usage. Many of the operators here are utility companies who are building passive optical networks (PON). The Smallworld system is the system of choice here, used by ten of these operators to plan, design and build and document their fibre network infrastructure. The system supports the routing of blown fibres to both residential homes and businesses through conduits and microconduits. The splice positions are also designed in the Smallworld system and reports produced to enable the engineers to create the right connections in the field.

The largest deployment of the Smallworld system for managing FTTH networks is at the Italian company Fastweb. They were one of the early pioneers to deploy FTTH networks, successfully supplying high bandwidth ‘triple play’ services using ethernet over an optical fibre direct to the home. Their deployment of Smallworld has been key to managing the rollout of the fibre network and has enabled them to pre-provision property connections, allowing Fastweb to offer their customers activation of service within a few days.

Fastweb has used Smallworld Network Inventory since the beginning of 2000.

Within three months the system was ready for deployment and was rolled out to the fibre network planners for the creation and design of the network in Milan.

Today, Smallworld is used in each of the network design centres located in the eight cities served by Fastweb. The Smallworld system not only enables planners to determine the physical layouts of these networks it is used even earlier in the process to decide the areas that can be profitably served by fibre build. This is achieved by querying the density of residential units within an area. If it falls below a certain threshold the area will be served via DSL using Local Loop Unbundling (LLU). The control of this overlap between FTTH and DSL areas is vital to the profitability of the Fastweb business and is therefore monitored on a continual basis.

In areas where fibre has been built, Smallworld allows fibre planners to maintain information about each individual fibre including what it is used for and who it is assigned to. When fibres are assigned to customers their physical path through the network is defined as a circuit. This information is vital to many departments in Fastweb including the planners themselves who use it to help them route new customer circuits (both the long distance and residential connections). They are able to see immediately if spare fibres are available to complete a particular circuit or if additional fibre network is required to provide service to a customer.

Q: What gains have other customers reported from using Smallworld?
A: NetCologne is a regional landline provider in Germany, delivering broadband services to residential and business customers. Initially they deployed their services using just DSL technology, however, over the last few years they have also been deploying their own FTTH network The initial implementation phase of the Smallworld Network Inventory Systems in 2001 was focussed on migrating NetCologne’s existing network records onto this new platform.

Over the past five years, NetCologne has seen significant improvements across a number of their business processes that have been directly attributed to the use of Smallworld.

The planning process has been greatly improved, to the extent that NetCologne estimate that it is now 100 percent faster using Smallworld. Strategic planning uses a visual representation of the network via an internet browser so that users have access to the entire network on demand, along with the tools to analyse the network data more effectively. This faster access to network information has resulted in a 70 percent reduction in the time taken for strategic planning.

The waiting time for requests for information has been reduced by 30 percent by Smallworld and the process of resolving network faults is now estimated to be 100 percent faster and much more accurate.

NetCologne are in no doubt that the flexibility of having a centralised systems for managing their entire network infrastructure within Smallworld has had a positive impact on their ability to respond to their customers.

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