Paving the Way for 5G and Country-Wide Broadband Connectivity in France with Enghouse Networks
Countries around the world are rolling out 5G networks. The higher speed, increased bandwidth, and improved stability of 5G will power the next generation of mobile telecommunications and spur the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT). But putting up new infrastructure is only part of the equation.
Almost eight years ago, our government and national regulator, The Autorité de Régulation des Communications Électroniques et des Postes (ARCEP), established the roadmap for very high-speed broadband networks in France, and in particular public-initiative networks (rural areas). This program will bring high-speed internet, fiber to the home (FTTH), and fiber to the office (FTTO) to the very large proportion of the country by 2022. Its goal is to provide rural populations with the same high-speed and high-bandwidth connectivity enjoyed in urban centers, thus bridging the digital divide.
Geography Is Not an Obstacle
Increasing internet speeds and the quality delivered are the top priority for Bouygues Telecom. Bouygues Telecom is a mobile telephony, internet, and IPTV company that employs over 8,000 people and operates 500 stores. Founded in 1994, we launched our first wireless offering two years later, and are the third-oldest mobile telephony provider in France. In 2019, ARCEP recognized us as France's number one mobile operator in rural areas.
Bouygues Telecom is committed to bringing FTTH and FFTO to our residential and commercial users in remote regions. We work hard to ensure that geography does not remain an obstacle to internet connectivity and to help bring high-speed internet access to every corner of our country.
Our goal is to increase the number of FTTH-eligible residential homes from 14.3 million at the end of June 2020 to more than 22 million by 2022. We also hope to double our FTTO business and enterprise customer base and are also building up our fiber to the mobile antenna (FTTA) capacity to route traffic to and from France's soon-to-launch 5G network.
As the fixed network IT service manager at Bouygues Telecom, I am in charge of the IT department that participates in the design and market of our cabled broadband infrastructure and work with a team of engineers to implement solutions that will ensure reliable high-speed connectivity. One of our largest projects at the moment is deploying new fiber-optic infrastructure in underserved regions and upgrading our existing infrastructure where we already operate.
Preparing to Grow Our Infrastructure
To grow our infrastructure, we needed an advanced network planning and management platform where we could design and pre-build new service areas, including fiber counts and end-point connectivity. Ideally, we needed a product that would allow us to create lists of materials, estimate costs, generate network schematics, and automate fiber design based on network topology, among other things.
This tool had to work with our budgets, expansion plans, and business rules. It also had to be compatible with our partners' and competitors' network planning tools, as we work with partner companies and occupy the same landscape as other telcos.
We took the first tentative steps in our IT solutions journey in 2016. We started by talking to other French telecom providers and discovered many of our competitors and partners used Enghouse Networks' NetDesigner to deploy and manage new and existing infrastructure. Its widespread adoption in this country showed that NetDesigner had already been adapted to the French market and was especially suited to our needs.
Leveraging GIS Technology
NetDesigner provides geospatial network planning, design, engineering, and operational tools that leverage the industry-standard Esri GIS (Geographical Information System) to map and monitor our infrastructure. The platform allows us to visualize, analyze, and share network information. It also generates customized reports that reflect the specific needs of different business units, including our marketing and sales departments, and our executive team.
But to get there, we first had to define the technical infrastructure, such as servers and databases, needed to host NetDesigner. We used Data Guard to put in place active and passive solutions for servers, the most difficult aspect of which was getting the correct dimensioning of DBs and network links to get the best performance. After that, we had to design the NetDesigner objects to add Bouygues Telecom characteristics, and integrate it into the Bouygues Telecom IT network.
NetDesigner is managed either through desktop or web applications and through its APIs. The system is used by more than 120 concurrent users, either through an in-house connection or through external connections based on Citrix. Several teams are using the NetDesigner solution simultaneously; some teams are collecting and building the network data, primarily through work orders, and other teams are maintaining the network data. Currently, there are more than 270 work orders.
Users exist at every level of our organization. Our engineers use NetDesigner to architect new network segments. Our technicians and network administrators isolate, assess, and correct network failures with it. Construction crews and contractors work with it in the field while building or maintaining infrastructure. NetDesigner synchronizes data from all of these sources in a centralized repository to ensure that everyone is up to date and using the same information.
It only took a year to fully deploy NetDesigner. Our initial meeting with Enghouse Networks was positive, but, as with any large implementation, we encountered a couple of stumbling blocks along the way.
The biggest was network compatibility. We had to build custom integrations with our existing network monitoring tools. We also had to rework some of our human processes to incorporate NetDesigner into our engineers' and technicians' workflows. Once we'd made these adjustments, we were able to leverage the platform's full functionalities and maximize its performance.
Telcos are all about engineering, and engineering is rules-based. Therefore, the best way to ensure consistent performance and compliance with regulatory and technical requirements is to set out a series of easy-to-follow and non-negotiable guidelines. By essence, our internal IT rules were not completely aligned with the way other French telecommunications operators were using NetDesigner, so we had to adjust our internal processes to align with industry practices.
Despite these tweaks, nothing proved to be unsurmountable. We worked closely with Enghouse Networks along the way, and the company even sent a team to France to help us test and deploy the solution, determine best practices adapted to our workflows, balance IT network loads, and connect everyone to the platform. They helped us put all the pieces together and made sure that everything worked.
Tapping Our Potential
At Bouygues Telecom, we have multiple evolutionary projects around network automation and virtualization, and we see NetDesigner helping us make these projects a success. These projects will be based on a passive network asset referenced in NetDesigner, which is central to Bouygues Telecom's strategy.
Together with Enghouse, we have built a new system from scratch with a very substantial load within a few months. Because of this, we have faith in our partnership to carry out further evolutions of our projects.
Our engineers aren’t the only ones who benefit from NetDesigner, either. Our investors and our executive team use NetDesigner's business intelligence features to calculate returns on our infrastructure spending. The platform contributes directly to the strategic direction of our business and on our bottom line.
With Enghouse Networks and NetDesigner, Bouygues Telecom is bringing broadband to France's most remote regions. NetDesigner gave us the tools we need to build the network of today and tomorrow for Bouygues Telecom—and for France.