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Telecom and Data
Agile product development for modular fiber optic hardware
This is the first in a series of articles looking at the benefits of agile product development
Operational requirements for communications network operators can vary significantly. For example, shared FTTH (Fiber To The Home) infrastructure has little in common with private 5G deployment, and installations in urban centers must meet different demands from rural deployment. However, custom equipment for each specific scenario is time consuming to design, produce and install – not to mention the high cost. Operators must also consider the lifecycle of the products they choose, while suppliers must manage logistics, legal compliance, safety and sustainability.
The solution to this issue is modularity. Consider individual products or functions as ‘blocks’ which can be connected in various combinations to meet the requirements of a given scenario. Designing products in this way begins at the design stage and must continue to be a consideration at every stage of the development process, and in every department. Dividing the products into compatible sub-assemblies allows customers to mix and match to meet their specific needs.
To achieve modularity, designers and production facilities must ensure that products are suitable for a broad range of applications, even more than in traditional designs. This means that beyond just functionality, designers must consider life phases, operating environment, manufacturing, distribution, installation and disposal. The result is worth the extra effort, as despite minor reductions in the efficiency of the design, modularity allows manufacturers to be more responsive and operators to find a suitable solution more quickly. In the long term, this will have a positive impact as networks evolve, as they will become easier to maintain and individual components will be more affordable to produce due to economies of scale.
The use of modular blocks in a network provides operators with greater flexibility and ability to scale rapidly to meet demand. Off the shelf modules have a far shorter lead time than custom designs, while plug-and-play installation means that getting new technology into the field is easier than ever. Similarly, modularity can also offer ways to lengthen the useful life of hardware, such as planning for future upgrade kits or building in functionality beyond what is necessary at the time of purchase.
Collaboration between teams ensures that processes transfer smoothly from one to another, while regular meetings allow team members to identify synergies and cut out inefficiencies. Overall, modularity is about ensuring both that the customer’s needs are met and that manufacturers can take advantage of the full benefits of mass production.