Why switching to bespoke equipment enclosures with complete installation and maintenance services from the manufacturer enables a leading provider of full fibre to the property (FTTP) broadband services to not only roll out infrastructure faster, but also better manage constant changes in network technology
Gigaclear is a leading provider of ultrafast, full-fibre broadband to rural communities in the United Kingdom. Using highly developed scheduling and the latest delivery methods, its advanced infrastructure today covers more than 75,000 homes and businesses in twenty-two counties, mostly across central and Southern England. Launched in 2009 and now engaged in another phase of major expansion, it has ambitious plans to connect over 300,000 rural properties in the UK within the next three years
From 2012, in every region served, equipment enclosures used across Gigaclear’s infrastructure have been developed, manufactured, installed and maintained by ICEE Managed Services. Over four decades ago the contractor began as a telecommunications systems installer and added enclosure manufacture to its service portfolio. Today, it still operates strongly in that sector, but also others andprovides a complete and integrated life-cycle package, or a ‘joined-up, one-stop shop’.
For standard and bespoke ICEE equipment enclosures, the service package may include design and development, prototyping and subsequent production, fit-out with parts and cabling (sourced by itself or supplied free-issue by the customer), and all complemented by highly experienced project management, full delivery and on-site installation, test and commission, traceability and ongoing maintenance, repair and overhaul.
For Gigaclear the telecommunications services company now makes a range of five largely bespoke cabinets, from a small and simple drop enclosure, to variations of a standard or first-generation product, plus two fully bespoke second-generation cabinets, and a large bespoke enclosure for dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) operations
As Gigaclear’s FTTP business rapidly expanded a key point soon emerged: it decided not to continue buying off-the-shelf cabinets. Instead, it opted for bespoke, which ICEE could readily provide. Much work for its customers is about modifying standard – and fabricating completely customised – equipment enclosure designs to meet specific requirements.
Through lean manufacturing and advanced design and production resources, these days it makes little difference to ICEE in time and cost between making a standard or bespoke product. Gigaclear decided why opt for the former if the latter would solve a number of problems, especially if results included better productivity and profitability?
James Harrison, a senior technical architect at the company, explains: “A lot of these reasons are related to the drivers behind Gigaclear’s expansion. As we’ve moved into new geographic areas with more properties and higher density, we’ve needed larger cabinets to serve those areas. Coupled with that, as we started serving more customers, we’ve had increased bandwidth demands.
Regarding numbers, he says: “Our standard access cabinets can handle around 20 gigabits per second (Gbps)of connectivity. Our larger and latest cabinets handle around 100 Gbps, and some of those sites handle almost a terabit per second of capacity.”Racing along with market demand are major advances in technology and performance. The fibre optic broadband industry is fast-moving, characterised by rapid change. For example, constant developments in DWDM back-haul services. Consequently, Gigaclear’s experience with ICEE split into two generations of cabinet and variations. The first centred on modifying standard cabinets, altered internally for the customer by the manufacturer. This was to better manage upgrades in technology and feedin more fibre optic cabling demanded for more houses and business premises. The second generation was a substantial move into bespoke cabinets to support rapid change.
“We’re providing ultrafast services which require very high capacity backhaul connections for those cabinets.”
Gigaclear’s network project manager Mark Pigott says the existing cabinets were fit for purpose from day one, when relatively small devices were housed. Now, however, as his company has grown and technology has changed, he confirms the point about rising pressure to accommodate more items of equipment and cabling. A tidy-up programme was carried out on existing assets, but it soon became clear that fully addressing the issue meant more internal space and adaptability was essential in cabinets.
To write a second-generation requirements brief for ICEE, Mark Pigott worked with field engineers to understand what improvements were desirable and productive – what could be done to speed installation, subsequent changes and maintenance tasks. For example, careful design of equipment mountings allowing for quick changes – such as obsolete kit being swapped out for more advanced devices, or yet more cabling added – with space to do so safely and securely. Prototypes were constructed by the manufacturer, tested by the customer’s engineers and best outcomes applied.
Second-generation design and prototype work took a while to achieve, but Mark Pigott says of the investment: “It’s the whole package, we’ve pulled it to pieces, we’ve spent months - myself, James and the team - developing it and now I think we’ve got an excellent product, where everyone who’s worked with us on it so far have given us great feedback.”
Customisation improves productivity as a cabinet’s internals are easier to work on and changes or upgrades may be made faster, the latter often done by ICEE during planned preventative maintenance (PPM) visits, so least time is wasted. Spares are also easy and quick to source direct from the UK-based factory. All traceability and records – of cabinets, installations, mandatory compliances, certifications and changes - are managed by the manufacturing services company.
“In collaboration with ICEE we have been able to reduce operational risk throughout the network, so that’s helped improve our network’s reliability.”
What about benefits gained from going bespoke? James Harrison says it’s hard to measure quantitatively, but:“We’ve definitely seen cost savings to the business around reduced maintenance overheads and improvements to cable management. In collaboration with ICEE we have been able to reduce operational risk throughout the network, so that’s helped improve our network’s reliability.”
He says other benefits include:“Airflow and air managements are much better, so the cabinets are able to deal with more thermal load and keep the equipment cooler with less energy, and we’re able to put more equipment into them.”
Improved power longevity has also been achieved: “In rural areas power cuts are always a risk. The second-generation cabinets have support for much more endurance on the batteries, so the whole cabinet can stay up for over a day in some configurations, without having external power. So, we can keep customers online with full service,” he says.
There are also advantages to collaborating closely with a supplier that is more than a manufacturer. Besides installation, commissioning and maintenance services, ICEE also offers strong project management. That team complements Gigaclear’s own in-house resources. Together, the partnering or combination of methodology, knowledge and experience ensures very stringent contractual delivery requirements, made by the network provider’s customers and backers, meet or exceed all targets and expectations.
Another benefit is less to do with broadband, more with supply chain management. ICEE’s factory is in the UK. With the kind of quick response and high quality Gigaclear demands, it wants an agile cabinet partner it may immediately discuss requirements with face-to-face, whether about changes to the design or revised call-off on orders and delivery. What’s more, with today’s environmental concerns and besides saving time and costs, a short transport chain in this country creates the least carbon footprint.
Consequently, Gigaclear’s experience with ICEE split into two generations of cabinet and variations. The first centred on modifying standard cabinets, altered internally for the customer by the manufacturer. This was to better manage upgrades in technology and feedin more fibre optic cabling demanded for more houses and business premises. The second generation was a substantial move into bespoke cabinets to support rapid change.