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Lighting Up Next-Gen Nets

Service providers are facing the technological and regulatory challenges of powering next-generation networks.

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Editor's Note: This story, written for the October print issue of Telephony, was completed before Hurricane Ike hit Texas and knocked out power to many remote terminals in AT&T's network. The company now has 2000 technicians, including 600 from other states, working to deploy 2800 generators to restore power to those terminals and other sites as well. Only two of AT&T's 154 Central Offices are without power and one of those is in hard-hit Galveston.

For service providers, powering next-generation networks, particularly the outside plant, is becoming a real headache. From network design challenges to problems with improperly grounded electronics at the customer premises to pending federal and state regulatory requirements for backup power, telcos are struggling to resolve power issues quickly so that they can focus more on finding new ways to reduce energy consumption and go green.

All providers face challenges when it comes to powering broadband fiber networks, but the type of problem depends largely on the kind of network being deployed. For example, analysts say the chief concern for AT&T and other companies building fiber-to-the-node (FTTN) networks is devising a power architecture capable of accommodating a growing number of smaller nodes positioned closer to the subscriber. While that's not an issue for companies using a passive optical network fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) approach, they instead have to worry about powering, installing and maintaining electronics at the customer premises.

FTTH provider Verizon has been plagued recently with problems related to improper grounding of optical network terminals (ONTs) at FiOS installations throughout New York state. Plus, Verizon and other FTTH providers must deal with educating their customers about battery replacement in the ONTs because subscribers currently are responsible for maintaining them.

All network operators also have the FCC's post-Hurricane Katrina power backup requirements to contend with, and some state regulatory commissions are considering similar measures. The FCC's order requires all fixed and wireless carriers to supply a minimum of eight hours of backup in the event of a power outage. The Cellular Telephone Industry Association has challenged the order in the U.S. Court of Appeals, but the court said it cannot rule until the FCC's Office of Management and Budget signs off on the regulations, which puts the ball back in the FCC's court.

Only one thing is clear when it comes to power challenges: Network operators do not want to talk about them ó at least not right now. Primarily citing a lack of time on the part of their operations experts, AT&T, Qwest Communications and Verizon all declined repeated requests for participation in this story. SureWest Communications wrote via e-mail that its customers are responsible for changing batteries on their ONTs, which provide a warning signal when batteries are low or won't hold a charge. Making consumers responsible is cheaper in the long run, according to SureWest, because of the hassle and expense of sending technicians to each home to make the change.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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