X

Connect (X)

Tag Archives: Jeremiah Sloan

Amid Surges in Demand for Broadband Connectivity, Supply Constraints Force Networks to Adjust

By Sam Pratt, Render Networks

Sam Pratt, CEO of Render Networks.

Like many communications services providers (CSPs), Mississippi-based C Spire is on an infrastructure blitz — part of the $1 billion Fiber Fast initiative in which the company will roll out extensive 5G fiber backhaul and all-fiber Gigabit broadband services to more than 200,000 homes across Alabama and Mississippi.

Yet for all the enthusiasm about its services, C Spire is working to execute its rollout in the midst of a surge in network rollouts that pits it against equally hungry rivals vying for a finite pool of materials and skilled labor.

Sourcing these resources has become harder than ever. Global materials shortages in the wake of COVID-driven factory shutdowns have created a scarcity of components needed for the delivery of today’s fiber networks.

Many suppliers are working with 60-week-plus estimated lead times for materials and supplies, throwing CSPs’ plans — particularly those without substantial buying power — into chaos and threatening a range of medium-term complications if they can’t figure out how to be agile in their delivery to compensate for unpredictability.

Lack of Skilled Labor Is a Handbrake for Expansion Plans

Despite surging demand for networks, recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures suggest that the ranks of the country’s 215,700 telecommunications equipment installers will actually decline in coming years. The number of fiber telecommunications and electrical line installers is expected to flatline over the same period.

Because many CSPs don’t have internal construction capability, more than 45 percent of fiber deployment and management operations are being outsourced to contractors. This can deliver results, but mitigation of commercial and delivery remains a big issue, particularly in a constrained market with heavy competition for construction workforces. The ability to attract and retain quality contractors is just another consideration.

Resource issues have become key blockers in the success of CSPs’ broadband and 5G and network strategies. For example, Mississippi and Alabama — C Spire’s native markets — had fewer than 1,640 telecommunications installers statewide last month. Maintaining the cadence of its rollout hinges on the network’s ability to engage enough skilled staff and to source enough materials to keep the project on track for the duration.

Investment Is no Longer the Primary Barrier

The shortage of resources has presented a Catch-22 for networks keen to accelerate planning and deployment to take advantage of a surge in broadband network funding , which includes near-term investment of $242 billion in federal funding and grant programs and $6.8 billion in state funding.

Yet this investment is tied to strict timelines and delivery milestones. Additionally, while network operators may be able to win public funding by outlining an ideal buildout scenario, competition and unpredictable supplies can easily throw those timelines out, resulting in heavy penalties caused by missed deadlines.

For networks with no internal construction capability, the decision to invest in and train hundreds of new workers is no small order and often is not a viable option.  Instead, a growing number of networks are turning to new automation and geospatial technologies that allow them to make much better use of the resources they do have, and to respond far more effectively when supply issues arise.

A technology-enabled approach unlocks a reduction in project and administrative overhead by automating construction, higher-quality inspections and change management, and their respective approvals via a single version of construction truth.

A number of CSPs have already seen dramatic reductions, up to 75 percent, in their resource requirements after adopting Render Networks’ geospatial network construction technology, including Craighead Electric Cooperative Corporation (CECC) fiber broadband project.

By reducing manual processes and mandating approaches that increase visibility and consistency — and, ultimately, margins — CECC was able to improve contractor retention across the multiyear deployment and reduce production timelines by more than half.

“Once the construction started, the rich design and field data enabled us to construct really efficiently,” COO Jeremiah Sloan said, noting that CECC had been able to deploy its outside plant 84 percent faster than it anticipated during network planning in 2018.

“We attribute this wholly to Render,” Sloan said. “It just makes the design very constructable. I’ve managed a similar process before,” he added, “and stumbled on the transition from what our engineers design to capturing as-built records centrally without needing to manually reconcile the data.

“We have saved a lot of money by eliminating the number of people needed to manage a project this size from 4 to 1,” Sloan said.

Location, Location, Location

The location-based motifs of digital construction management technology mean that every construction item — from contractor allocation to bills of materials and bills of quantities — is mapped to an optimal build sequence that is laid out in detail before the shovel hits the dirt.

By transforming the network design into a digital scope of construction requirements, visible on a map-based interface, network teams can access a real-time view of the entire rollout to track actual versus planned resources and identify issues as they emerge. Construction tasks can be rescheduled dynamically as resource availability changes, ensuring that work is allocated to crews with the right skill sets or who have proven to operate more efficiently.

Why Build Flexibility and Prioritization Matters

Network leaders increasingly need to prioritize build areas based on census block and location-based requirements — in the case of most federal or state funding programs — or the fastest path to revenue generation. By preparing the build in extensive detail prior to construction, operators can plan for material and resource requirements, particularly when funding has delivery expectations linked to service areas, available resources need to be allocated here first.

Flexibility in your build strategy and technology adoption to enable prioritization is incredibly important and is an enabler in the face of exploding competition, for operators to overcome supply interruptions and permit delays and to accommodate changes in stakeholder priorities.

Ultimately, many of the forces shaping the fiber deployment landscape are out of your hands, but in an era of continuing large-scale fiber investment, the solution is to focus on what you can control.

By tapping the extensive task management and project visibility capabilities of a network construction platform, like Render, you can ensure not only that your rollout makes the most of scarce resources, but that you can react to rapidly changing circumstances to build networks as efficiently as possible no matter how demand or supply change over time.

———————–

Sam Pratt is CEO of Render Networks.