AFL blog ponders where 'black swan events' meet fiber networks

June 4, 2020
AFL's Josh Simer notes that the surge in network usage due to COVID-19 is "one example of a fundamental truth of network design: patterns of demand in data traffic are hard to predict."

In a new technical blog for the company, Josh Simer, AFL's market manager for service providers recalls that:

"A black swan event is defined as 'an unpredictable event that is beyond what is normally expected of a situation and has potentially severe consequences.' The phrase originates from the story that for years, people assumed that there was no such thing as a black swan because nobody had recorded seeing one – until finally someone did. It turned out black swans existed but were extremely rare, and it was hard to predict when or where someone would encounter one."

Simer goes on to posit that the COVID-19 pandemic has in many ways been a black swan event for the communications sector, in that data traffic has shot up at an unprecedented rate as a result of schools closing and governmental orders to shelter in place and work from home.

Simer notes that the surge in bandwidth usage since COVID-19 is "one example of a fundamental truth of network design: patterns of demand in data traffic are hard to predict - other than that they will grow rapidly on average." He adds that "the solution is to focus on building physical access networks that have the capacity to respond to changing demands, and the accessibility to make use of that capacity where and when it is needed."

The blog goes on to ask the question, as many service providers globally are reporting massive increases in data traffic, what lesson does this experience hold for designers of Layer 1 physical networks?

As advised by the blog:

"The first thing a service provider needs to do is make sure that network has expandability: the spare capacity to accommodate additional demands. The good news is that the incremental cost of adding this capacity is low. Much of the expense of installing a new or upgrading an existing access network comes from the installation of cables: boring a path underground for new conduit, running cables from pole to pole and attaching them, etc. However, many of these costs do not vary with the size of the cable installed, and others don’t vary proportionally. Aerial installation of cable gets more difficult as the cable gets heavier, but it does not double if you double the fiber count. Boring for a new conduit, or pulling new cables through an existing conduit, also does not vary with the fiber count of the cable – as long as it fits. And new cable technologies, such as AFL’s SpiderWeb Ribbon and Wrapping Tube Cable, can fit more fibers than ever before into smaller diameter cable sheaths."

Read the full blog, 'Black Swans and Fiber Networks,' at AFL.

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