Teresa Bazzle has a wealth of experience in supporting service providers with FTTH design and engineering needs. Whether working with traditional telcos, competitive overbuilders, rural electric cooperatives, or municipal broadband operators, Teresa has just about seen it all. She brings her 30+ years’ experience in the telecom industry to bear for Corning’s customers who are looking to best prepare their communities’ broadband infrastructure for the next 50 years and beyond.
She sat down with Telecompetitor’s Bernie Arnason to talk about ongoing efforts to transform U.S. communications infrastructure to stay ahead of demand for high-bandwidth services.
What’s driving the incredible investments we are seeing in fiber-based infrastructure?
It’s interesting. We’ve been deploying fiber for 40 years. That’s a lot of experience, though in other ways I feel like we’re just getting started.
Just cutting in for a second, when you say “we,” do you mean Corning?
Oh sure, but I really mean the industry. In the early days of fiber to the home, say 15 years ago, network operators had a curiosity about fiber in the access part of the network – the part that serves people at home or in businesses. Fiber in that part of the network was an option. Usually, operators were just thinking fiber when they were upgrading their network or building a new one, but back then the demands on the network were so much smaller.
So our customers aren’t asking, “should we upgrade to fiber?” Now it’s “we have to do upgrade” – both to stay ahead of demand and to compete with other operators.
At the same time, there’s been a shift from fiber to the home to fiber to the everything, right?
I think of it as less of a shift than an extension. When a community upgrades to FTTH, that “fiber richness” can do more than connect people at home. Think about fast wireless networks. Today’s 4G and especially 5G need more fiber in the infrastructure. Ultra-fast speeds demand fiber backbone feeding small cells, so FTTH helps with that.
On top of that, with the Internet of Things (IoT) beginning to take hold, communities with FTTH are ready to handle that demand. FTTH lays the foundation for a larger network transformation, and it changes lives.
That’s a bold claim.
I’m not making it up! It is already well documented what happens when an underserved community brings fiber infrastructure in. This happens. That happens. The results are compelling – access to broadband connectivity changes lives and transforms communities.
Not to mention daily life.
Seriously, I don’t think most people are stopping and thinking about how it has already transformed their lives every single day.
When we were in the early days of deploying fiber to the home, we were talking about how high-capability bandwidth could spur innovation. We knew fiber would set technology developers up for virtually unlimited potential. The actual experiences we have now were beyond imagining. When the Fiber Broadband Association was started in 2001, the talk was of “killer apps” but the streaming and navigational support and face-to-face calling and even Uber and the “let me look it up real quick” possibilities seemed like science fiction. Now they’re just normal and expected.
Lives are changing, networks are changing. So back to fiber…
Right. Okay, so the networks going in now are still fiber, but it’s more sophisticated and the architectures are changing. A cable with 288 fibers in it was pretty standard just a couple years ago. But now? The cables have 1,728 or even 3,456 fibers. It just blows my mind completely. Now network operators are preparing for things like 5G and linking data centers, buildings, and cell towers. Fiber really is needed everywhere.
How are the network designs changing?
When I started out, there were only one or two useful fiber-to-the-home architectures and limited product sets. Now our customers have more choices, like multiple architectures and product sets. It’s very situational. There’s an openness to doing things differently that didn’t necessarily exist in the beginning. What seems like small choices can make a difference for a long time, maybe even 50 years, so designs really have to be specific for their situations.
These networks will outlive both of us.
So, what does a day in the life look like for you, designing networks?
Customers will come to our team with a scenario, say building FTTH to a new area or even just a new neighborhood. They’re looking for advice and suggestions for these scenarios. We’ll do a discovery with them to fully understand the scenario. We ask lots of questions to understand where they’re coming from – to determine their situation and environment, their pain points.
We use AutoCAD and GIS tools to create design options, which we may also model to estimate how labor factors into each design and to give them a sense for total costs. Sometimes my group gets involved in actual engineering and field support. Ultimately what we get to offer are options – it’s fun, project-based work.
What’s an interesting project you’re working on now?
I couldn’t pick just one, ever. I usually have a real mix, which is exciting. A great example — recently I was working with a city on the West Coast on a bill of materials for FTTH passing nearly half a million homes. Huge project, very satisfying work. And at the same time, I was supporting a very small company in Texas that was using preconnectorized cabling for the first time to bring fiber to 61 homes. It’s a great job. The customers are terrific.
I assume you are also working with a diverse group of companies?
Yes! Some have a lot of experience and others like that company in Texas are relatively new to fiber. We’re working with a lot of rural electric cooperatives for example. These companies do have experience in installing and operating a network, but with FTTH, it’s a network they’re not as familiar with. So, we basically serve as an extension of their team until they are comfortable and familiar with this new operating environment. We give as little or as much support as a customer needs, just depending on what they have in mind.
You mentioned there used to be only two architecture options and now there are a handful. Can you tell me more about that?
When I first started, the central split architecture dominated our designs. So all of the splitters were in the field, say in a cabinet serving a neighborhood or serving several neighborhoods. Every home has its own fiber in this scenario, running between the home and the splitters at the neighborhood cabinet. This design was preferred but could have higher production costs because it required one fiber per home past the cabinet.
In the last couple of years, the distributed split architecture is also being adopted. This design moves splitters to several points in the network, closer to the home. This saves product costs by leaning out the fiber cables within neighborhoods, but there’s more fiber sharing now between homes. As we progress, various ways to make deployments cost-effective are being explored, including new ways to do the splitting.
It ultimately comes down to an operator’s circumstance to determine the right design. You have to listen to the customer and to their individual needs before making a design recommendation.
Earlier you talked about the network in Texas using preconnectorized cabling. How does it typically fit in to your designs?
That’s just it – there isn’t a typical design or typical way to deploy a network. What preconnectorized solutions buy operators are reliability and savings in terms of time and labor because they reduce the amount of splicing in the network. It’s essentially a plug-and-play approach that helps operators turn up service in an area faster. But Corning’s preconnectorized solutions are just one tool in the toolbox. There are many solutions that can address each customer’s particular needs and pain points.
With so much fiber needed in the U.S., we think, quite frankly, there aren’t enough skilled splicers to go around. Operators need to explore other options, so we encourage operators to look at the total cost of installation and operation including labor, equipment, and maintenance. We help with that analysis and often find that preconnectorized solutions deliver the best total cost for our customers, and it allows them to serve their subscribers faster.
What advice would you give a network operator who is just getting started with FTTH?
I’d suggest that there is no reason to go it alone! There is a thriving FTTH ecosystem that makes launching FTTH not nearly as scary or complicated as it used to be. The level of support from companies like Corning makes the whole process easier, regardless of how big a network is or where it’s located.
I would also encourage prospective operators to take a long-term view. I’d tell them that their network could be around for 50 years or more. Too many times I’ve seen a lot of short-term focus on things like quick payback. I understand that payback is a part of business, but you don’t want to sell your community short. Fiber brings the necessary capacity and technology to handle whatever technology comes down the pike – and you can’t undervalue readiness and reliability.
What’s next for you?
Well, I’m having so much fun, I just want to keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve had this job for over 13 years, the longest stretch I’ve been at any position. I’m working externally and internally with some of the smartest people in the world, and I’m working with cool products that are evolving. It keeps me on my toes. It’s exciting to me to help customers enable the technologies of the future – technology that we can’t even think of right now. The things that excite me are the applications that don’t exist yet.
Also, the customers that we work with have different needs and this forces me to think outside the box, which I enjoy. These customers are working hard to bring fiber-based experiences to people and businesses – work that is important, and I’m proud to support them.
You said the things that excite you are the things you can’t think of – what do you mean?
I saw Star Wars in the theater in 1977 and one scene, in particular, struck me. Remember on the Millenium Falcon, when the hologram creatures battled one another on a table top? Over the years as technology has advanced, I’ve remembered that scene and find myself thinking that before long we’ll be watching football games or Broadway shows on our kitchen tables in the same way. Or we will be able to experience a game virtually from the coach’s perspective – you name it. It amazes me how quickly things have moved from being fantasy – science fiction – to just around the corner.
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