Fibre has become an integral part of today’s digital environment. It not only connects people but also enables organisations across industry sectors to drive their business both locally as well as internationally. It is therefore critical that these networks are reliable and operate as effectively as possible. To ensure this happens, fibre network operators (FNOs) must perform meticulous, regular maintenance.

By Manie Havenga, head of maintenance at Frogfoot Networks

This maintenance encompasses both reactive and preventative components. Typically, reactive maintenance occurs when the fibre network’s normal operation is disrupted due to unforeseen circumstances. It requires fast fault detection, a quick response time, and rapid fault resolution.

One of the most common causes of fibre faults in the country entails municipalities accidentally breaking fibre lines due to them fixing power and water lines or performing excavations. Secondly, there is also vandalism to contend with. This occurs when syndicates break fibre lines mistaking them for copper cables.

For our part, Frogfoot has an extensive internal support system in place that ensures we can achieve resolution within four hours of the fault being detected. On average, we respond to 4,000 unique tickets per month across our national footprint.

However, the primary focus for FNOs should be on preventive maintenance. This proactive approach involves regular network health checks to pre-empt potential disruptions and ensure optimal network performance. To this end, Frogfoot performs biannual checks on our entire fibre network. From cleaning manholes, nodes as well as our network infrastructure, to relocating our furry rodent & insect friends that enter our network to seek shelter. Any FNO can benefit from such an approach as a preventive strategy significantly reduces the number of incidents requiring reactive maintenance.

In-house maintenance

While outsourcing fibre network maintenance tasks is common in the local industry, maintaining a strong in-house team with specialist technicians can be the difference between rapid and delayed response times. Balancing internal expertise with outsourced maintenance service when there is no FNO presence in an outlying area can make a significant difference in ensuring connectivity remains active.

While most FNOs opt for a more conventional Network Operations Centre (NOC), Frogfoot has introduced a Regional Operations Centre (ROC) for both inland and coastal maintenance teams. This enables Frogfoot to rapidly respond to any scenario while having clear and timely feedback with the resources on ground level. The ROC acts as a command and control centre overseeing all maintenance operations. It streamlines tasks, coordinates technicians, and provides critical support to other departments within Frogfoot.

Of course, no fibre maintenance plan can be considered complete if it does not have a contingency strategy in place. This became evident during the recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal. While most other FNOs went completely down, the event only impacted 35% of the Frogfoot network. And despite this disruption, our preventive maintenance strategy and contingency measures ensured that services were restored within 2-3 weeks, significantly faster than many other networks affected by the same disaster.

This contingency planning also takes things a step further. In the event of a node failure – a situation that could affect thousands of customers – Frogfoot has the capability to deploy mobile node units and build a new node within an extraordinary 24 hours, a process that under normal circumstances takes ten weeks.

Training above all

The success of any maintenance effort can be attributed to having skilled technicians on the ground. These are the unsung heroes who maintain the health of any fibre network. Dealing with adverse weather conditions, community unrest, navigating around strikes and being on the frontline.

FNOs must therefore ensure their technical staff undergo extensive training. This needs to include specialised fibre training, working-at-height training, and even acquiring special driving licenses to pull generators to ensure network uptime. For Frogfoot, relying on such a rigorous training approach ensures that a skilled and competent workforce is ready to maintain and troubleshoot the vast 6,8-million metres of its fibre and 350 000 homes passed across the national network.

Ultimately, maintaining a fibre network is not just about delivering connectivity. It is about creating an enabling environment where consumers and businesses can embrace today’s digital world. Without an aggressive proactive maintenance strategy in place that delivers the required redundancy, no FNO can hope to ensure the stability of its network.