Boosting Network Climate Resilience Against Extreme Weather: A Guide for Broadband Providers | Corning

Boosting Network Resiliency Against Extreme Weather: A Guide for Broadband Providers

Barry Walton
Published: May 2, 2024

Our climate is changing, churning more frequent and intense extreme weather patterns out across the planet—and operators of critical infrastructure like broadband must begin taking measures to meet this rising challenge. In North America, where a significant portion of telecommunications networks span the countryside on above-ground utility lines, the climate threat of severe events like wind, fire and ice storms is particularly acute, downing poles and cutting off service to communities.

It's critical for service providers to take a proactive stance with network architectures that are more resilient to severe weather, including the use of fiber optic solutions that can dramatically reduce the time and labor required to get vital communication infrastructure back online. Informed by my experience in the field working for a telecommunications provider, where I chased storms and helped plan repairs, I’ve assembled the following guidelines for network resiliency.

1. Bury where possible

For communities building their own broadband networks or incumbent telcos expanding their coverage, the ideal method is to place the cabling underground. Given fiber optic cabling’s longevity and future-proof bandwidth capacity, under certain conditions underground deployments can often last decades with minimal maintenance and are immune to most weather events.

However, even underground fiber isn’t completely invulnerable to disruption. Excavation equipment can cause issues when the equipment operators fail to call for a cable location service and dig up a cable, disrupting service.

But there are a few things operators can do mitigate cable digs and reduce time to repair.

With testing equipment, it’s usually possible to zero in relatively closely on the point of disturbance to direct crews for repairs. To speed up the restoration, placing marker posts and recording their GPS coordinates can reduce troubleshooting time, and signage will provide warning that buried cables are present when placed on buried fiber routes. It’s also important to regularly survey the line to ensure the marker posts aren’t removed, as they also serve to prevent accidental damage to the cable from digging.

If possible, it’s also a good idea to run the cable in conduit to provide an added layer of protection from ground shifts and shovel strikes. Of course, for some areas, running your cabling underground can be cost prohibitive or impractical because of rock or wetlands.  In these circumstances, your only option is likely placing cable on utility poles. But even then, there are steps that can be taken to guard against disruption and downtime.

2. Utilize preterminated fiber

Aerial cables on utility lines are often the most practical means of delivering broadband connectivity over long distances, particularly in sparsely populated areas. But these cables can be susceptible to a wide variety of environmental dangers, from high winds to wildfires and ice storms. As such, network operators must engineer these installations with the aim of fast restoration for when the cables are damaged.

One key consideration from a design standpoint is to ensure there’s extra slack in the line to prevent breakage when poles fall. A few years back, I was tasked with assessing the damage following a severe winter storm that toppled dozens of trees onto the lines, which were also coated in a thick sheath of ice. But because the line was engineered with slack loops, the cable in many cases was able to withstand the tension and remained working as the slack provided enough flexibility to prevent the fiber cable from being severed.

Typically, the elements most affected in aerial cable runs are the drops and terminals—and this is where the latest generation of fiber solutions can really make a difference in network resiliency. When a traditional fiber terminal gets damaged, technicians will need to come out and splice everything back together manually using a fiber fusion set, which can take hours. If multiple terminals are broken, which is often the case, it can be days before service is restored.

By designing the network with preconnectorized solutions like Corning’s Evolv® Solution with Pushlok™ Technology, repairing drops and terminals becomes a simple matter of plugging in new terminals or drops, slashing the restoration time from hours to minutes.

3. Develop and maintain an emergency plan

No matter how carefully you design your network, challenges are  inevitable. In a disaster situation, there will be a litany of impediments standing in the way of carrying out service restoration: Where will you get fuel for maintenance vehicles? Where will you get your materials? And how will you handle the logistics of mobilizing the technician teams? The key is developing a comprehensive emergency restoration plan and keeping it up to date.

Since the most affected network infrastructure typically resides on aerial poles shared with utility companies, it’s prudent to establish mutual aid agreements. Proactively, service providers should have a good vegetation program.  If you share a pole line with another utility, work to develop a joint program for tree trimming, which can go a long way toward mitigating potential line damage. If possible, during a weather event restoration, see if you can assist at the power company’s emergency operations center, to coordinate moving your cables if required.

A solid emergency plan for service providers should consider the following:

  • Priority services for restoration, such as hospitals and emergency services
  • A damage assessment process involving teams on the ground
  • Materials and fuel sourcing contingencies
  • Staffing plan for technicians and engineers, including logistics for out-of-town workers such as food and accommodations
  • Detailed records of your network
  • Generators for remote active cabinets
  • An emergency operations center
  • Once a year you should review your plan and update it as required

Internet access is no longer just a commodity, it’s a necessity—especially in emergency situations, where communications are critical for navigating the crisis. As the threat of severe weather grows, service providers need to take measures to ensure their networks are built to withstand the elements and to allow for fast, efficient repair when the inevitable damage is done. Having a detailed plan, burying the fiber where possible to protect it from the elements, and utilizing preterminated solutions are all ways to reduce the time to repair when natural disasters cause disruptions to operators’ networks.

Click here to learn more about our preconnectorized FTTH solutions or fill out the form below to connect with one of our experts.

Barry Walton

Barry Walton is in his 46th year in telecom and serves as Solutions Architect for Corning Optical Communications. In his current role, Barry is focused on developing and implementing innovative solutions to reduce labor in deploying fiber to the home in rural communities. His expertise lies in business case creation, operations planning, large-scale network planning, reducing costs and deployment strategies for successful access network builds.

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