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Innovations to help NBN Co find FTTH faults quicker and save energy

In separate announcements Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson have unveiled technologies that, respectively expedite fault finding and repair of FTTH networks like the NBN, and that could significantly reduce their energy consumption.

Alcatel-Lucent - the incumbent supplier of FTTH technology to NBN Co - has unveiled "a Bell Labs breakthrough that provides an easy, fast and affordable method for accurately identifying and pinpointing faults [in FTTH networks]."

According to Alcatel-Lucent its new network monitoring system uses a technique called optical time domain reflectometry (OTDR). It "plugs into a network's existing fibre access nodes and is integrated with the Motive Network Analyzer, Alcatel-Lucent's remote management solution for broadband access networks."

The company says its approach is "unprecedented in the industry...During the rollout phase it provides remote validation of the quality of fibre installation work. During operations it continuously monitors all lines, pinpoints the location of network problems and reduces the need for field technicians to make multiple visits to a site."

However OTDR is not a new technique, and Alcatel-Lucent has given no details of the Bell Labs breakthrough. When there is any abnormality in a fibre, such as a crush, too tight a bend or a poor splice a portion of the signal is reflected back to the source. The timing and strength of this reflected signal can be used to determine the location of the fault.

The Alcatel-Lucent monitoring system is a product that is commercially available. Ericsson's energy saving technology, known as adaptive power management, is yet purely a demonstration - which the company made at Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam.

According to Ericsson, "The idea is similar to the throttle that allows cars to dynamically change performance based on driver needs, adapting energy consumption to the work effectively done. Currently, telecom equipment always runs at full throttle, even though traffic levels vary over the course of the day and week."

In the demonstration an Energy Aware prototype optical transport node, the SPO 1400 "modulates energy consumption based on traffic requirements [and] changes consumption based on actual usage while maintaining network performance based on the bandwidth required," according to Ericsson.

It claims that application of the technology to a small regional network of 100 nodes "could potentially reduce yearly energy costs by EUR 300,000 and result in carbon dioxide emission reductions equivalent to removing 7,000 cars from the road."

Ericsson adds that: "the principle can be implemented with other technologies, including microwave transport."

In March this year GreenTouch, a consortium of over 50 organisations dedicated to reducing the energy consumption of telecommunications networks by a factor of 1000 unveiled a technology  that it said could reduce the power consumption of the in-home unit of FTTH networks by a factor of 10.

The technology is known as Bi-PON for bit interleaved passive optical network. (PON is the standard technology used in FTTH networks like Australia's NBN). According to GreenTouch. It works by greatly reducing the amount of processing the in-home optical unit, optical network terminal (ONT) in NBN's terminology, is required to perform to identify and extract its own data stream from up to 30 others on the same fibre.

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