As Eastern Kentucky prepares for the rigors of a 21st-century economy, broadband creates unbeatable opportunities for gainful employment in our region.
The first necessary steps to bring broadband to your county include forming a fiber board and assembling the public-private partnerships (PPPs) that are essential to get the work done.
As a next step, your broadband plan needs to provide a thoughtful and detailed network design and engineering process.
This might not be your area of expertise — but it’s important you learn as much as you can about network design and engineering.
SOAR put together this guide to help you understand:
- Common types of network designs
- Ways to approach network engineering
No one broadband network is the same, so your goal will be to evaluate your options. This process will also require a partnership with an engineering team.
Ultimately, your goal will be to put together a plan that works best for your town or county’s particular needs. Keep your community’s needs top of mind as you develop it. Without strong local involvement, communities won’t have any skin in the game when it comes to this important part of the broadband planning process.
In most cases, you’ll be striving to provide access to broadband speeds that allow residents to work, attend school, access healthcare, and enjoy online entertainment.
Understanding network design
Network design refers to how you’ll install fiber cable to develop new broadband access or strengthen current connections. The two main options are:
- Trenching for an underground network.
- Using aerial spans on existing telephone poles.
As you approach network design, you’ll want to consider your options through the lens of:
- Performance: How fast the connection needs to run.
- Reliability: How frequently you can expect downtime.
- Cost of deployment: How much you’ll spend on installation.
- Total cost of ownership: How much you’ll spend to maintain the system.
- Anticipated demand: The volume of usage you predict.
You’ll need to work through the following steps to formulate your network design. Working with an engineering expert or team will be essential to the process of network design planning and implementation.
Step 1: Select your broadband technology
Selecting the right broadband technology is more than just considering what’s a good fit for your community, projects, and goals right now. It also has to be future proof: The network and technology you install now must also work in the long term.
You need to anticipate and build broadband technology that’s ahead of the curve. Otherwise, you’ll constantly be playing catch up replacing and upgrading your network.
You have a number of options for the type of broadband technology you select.
Fiber-to-the-premises, or FTTP, means you’ll lay fiber to the physical locations that need a new or enhanced broadband connection.
The main upside of FTTP is reliability.
Speeds remain consistently high even during peak usage hours. The downside of FTTP is the cost of installation. But it’s your best option for last-mile broadband coverage in residential, commercial, and municipal facilities.
Wireless broadband networks cover a limited geographic area.
The upsides of wireless broadband are ease of installation, mobility, and cost. The downsides of wireless broadband include slow speeds during peak usage times and limitations to the coverage area.
You can’t feasibly install wireless coverage for a residential neighborhood, but you might consider it for a tourist amenity in your downtown area. Wireless broadband is helpful if cell coverage is spotty along busy commercial corridors with lots of foot traffic.
Step 2: Design fiber routes and wireless coverage
Undoubtedly, the vast majority of your broadband network will be FTTP. You’ll need to carefully consider the routes to cover for your community.
You’ll also need to keep in mind your strategic goals for broadband. This is where you should engage with your fiber board. They should help you design the fiber routes and wireless coverage.
There’s a question of equity to answer at this stage: How can we bring broadband to the vast majority of our residents and local workforce — if not all of them?
If your community isn’t keeping the hardest-to-reach places top of mind, nobody else will.
In fact, Eastern Kentucky’s standard should be the extent we produce reliable, functional broadband for the most remote areas — instead of just the easiest-to-reach places.
Funding must be prioritized to these challenging places.
Step 3: Select design for network architecture and related hardware
Network architecture is another important design consideration for your broadband plan.
There are two options to consider:
- Active Ethernet: A single optical line for one customer that isn’t shared.
- Gigabit Passive Optical Networks (GPON): A single optical line that multiple customers connect to.
GPON is the most cost-effective solution. It’s the most conservative in terms of resources. The drawback is that users may experience a few compromises in reliability at peak times.
Depending on your budget, you may use a blend of each type of network architecture.
This is where an engineering partnership becomes critical. An expert partner can help guide you in the correct direction based on your budget and bandwidth needs.
Step 4: Explore licensing requirements to obtain spectrum (wireless broadband only)
To get your wireless network online, you’ll need to license from existing spectrum providers.
The FCC rounded up available spectrum licenses to support wireless network projects. Be sure to review your licensing options early on to get a sense of feasibility and cost.
Step 5: Develop construction drawings
Once you’ve determined your broadband technology mix, fiber routes, wireless coverage, and network architecture design, you’ll need to pull it all together with drawings and maps.
This is critical.
You’ll want to include these in your grant applications so you can prove you’ve got a well-thought-out construction plan ready to go.
Work with your engineering partner to develop these resources. Check your grant applications or contact the funder to find out if they prefer to review any specific types of drawings or maps.
Step 6: Prepare network cost estimates
BroadbandUSA provides a preliminary guide to get you started with network cost estimates.
Note you’ll need to work with your providers to refine your estimates based on local context and up-to-date costs.
Step 7: Create implementation schedules and project budgets
While you’ll have an initial sense of budget and schedules as you make your decisions about Steps 1-6, make sure you articulate your complete plans on paper.
Funders require it.
Create an implementation schedule in partnership with your engineering team, fiber partner, wireless partner, and any others involved with the process of installing broadband.
A common issue in broadband installation projects is delays incurred from utilities permitting.
Get in touch with your local utilities early on in the process to find out how long you’ll need for this process — and whether expediting it will be possible.
Step 8: Review and select network vendors
You’ll likely need to issue an RFP (request for proposals) from network vendors that can service your area.
This effort will help you locate the most competitive bid.
While price is important, keep in mind you should consider your vendors’ client references and history of successful projects, particularly in rural areas.
Why you need network engineering
We can’t underscore how essential it will be to select an engineering partner that will fully commit to the process with you. They’ll be by your side every step of the way.
Your engineering partner will need to help you with the following tasks:
- Collecting field data
- Recommending the best network design for your budget and schedule
- Creating construction drawings and maps
- Project managing the process from planning through implementation
- Recommending construction vendors
- Handling complex details associated with implementation, such as permitting
Their expertise should help you complete your project faster, more effectively, for the best rates, and with the fewest hiccups.
Simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know.
Taking your needs to an expert will be in everyone’s best interest — especially for your residents and small businesses.
Conclusion: Getting started with network design and engineering
While there’s no one right way to lay broadband, by now you should be familiar with best practices:
- Hire an expert engineering team to support your network design and process needs.
- Get your plans down on paper to meet funders’ requirements.
- Work closely with your fiber board to make decisions that will best serve your community.
Every community will have different priorities. Utilities and geographic considerations heavily influence network design. As a result, your network design and engineering process will probably look different from that of a neighboring city or county.
Getting an expert to back you up will make the process achievable.
Remember, that’s what it’s all about — connecting all of our residents and workers to broadband so they can have more opportunities to succeed.
Explore the complete broadband implementation process here.