Real-Time Fiber Monitoring On Pilot’s Access Network

Oct 15, 2018 · 5 min read

Introducing An Engineering Milestone In Commercial Telecom

We’re excited to announce Real-Time Fiber Monitoring across our entire access fiber network through the use of out-of-band optical time domain reflectometers (OTDRs) from our data center.

While many carriers deploy this kind of technology to monitor backhaul for their cell sites, we are one of the first providers to add functionality over our access network. The Pilot team, with help from our partner ADVA, has been hard at work to test and implement the Real-Time Fiber Monitoring system, a technology required for us to automate the monitoring and triangulation of fiber-related outages throughout our access network. We’ll take a look at what this means from a technical perspective, how this technology works, and the impact on our customer experience during outages.

How Did We Get Here?

Outages are a part of life for all internet providers — especially in the NYC Metro Area. With over 30 tenants sharing the same franchise infrastructure, issues within the system are common and frequently cause minor fiber disturbances in the path between a building and data center. Therefore, it’s not a question of if your provider’s network will be impacted by outages; it’s a question of how they handle those service-impacting events. At Pilot, we’re constantly evolving and upgrading our network to prevent outages wherever possible, and hasten resolution when they do happen. We also established an aggressive 100% uptime guarantee from day one, and set the precedent of crediting customers for any downtime within our control. But that’s not enough. We have a responsibility to our customers to reduce downtime no matter what the cause. So as we’ve grown, we’ve identified opportunities to consistently engineer our network in ways that allow our crews to respond with agility and accuracy. Real-Time Fiber Monitoring is the latest development in that ongoing effort.

Under the Hood

Our optics utilize wavelengths between 1270 and 1550 nm to deliver the up to 10 gigabit internet that our subscribers use on a daily basis. Real-Time Fiber Monitoring OTDRs allow us to overlay a monitoring wavelength at 1650 nm (out-of-band) on the same fiber to constantly monitor each path from a network node to a customer location, with no effect on existing traffic. To inject the monitoring wavelength, we install a customized Pilot multiplexer (MUX) between the optical line terminal (OLT) and fiber path at the data center (as seen in diagram below). In addition to allowing the overlay of monitoring traffic onto the fiber path, a spare port on the MUX allows for the insertion of additional wavelengths for future services.

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At the point where the fiber terminates inside the building itself we install an in-line demarcation reflector. This reflector has minor etchings in the glass fiber that align with the 1650nm monitoring wavelength causing it to be reflected back towards the Real-Time Fiber Monitoring OTDR at the datacenter while allowing all other wavelengths to pass through unaffected. This reflection provides an end-point to the fiber path, and the loss of this event in the fiber path provides definitive verification of a fiber fault.

Out In The Field

Currently, when any provider in NYC (including Pilot) has a fiber break, they must gain access to both the data center and the customer location — a process that can take up to 2 hours during business hours, and even longer overnight. This is so that an optical trace file can be generated via handheld device and sent back to an engineer waiting to plot it on mapping software and triangulate the fiber break. With Real-Time Fiber Monitoring, we will be able to immediately determine fault location along our access network within a matter of minutes and cut our time to arrival at the fault by almost 50%. This will also allow us to circumvent the need for any 3rd party access to patch points for troubleshooting, greatly increasing the reliability of our outage response effort. Apart from the major reduction in downtime, this tool will also allow us to automate triaging issues between in-building construction, power issues, or data center issues, further increasing the speed to site and resolution.

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Long Term Customer Impact

The implementation of this technology marks a huge internal and external milestone for Pilot and the commercial ISP industry. Internally, it will help us to streamline our outage escalation tree, allowing fiber outages to bypass 3 levels of support and directly alert the fiber/construction teams. Externally, it creates a platform and an API over our OSP fiber network. This will be the basis that allows us to push real time plant-related notifications to our customer application on iOS and Android, resulting in the most transparent network outage notification tool used in commercial internet services today.

The impact of this upgrade does not end with improvements to just Pilot’s outage process. It will also allow us to bring new locations and technologies on-net with even more speed. The Outside Plant portion of our new building acceptance process will also be automated with the implementation of these devices. As we bring new locations on-net at an even greater pace, the implementation of MUXes will mean our team can deploy new coexisting wavelengths onto the same services entering a customer location. This means that when we upgrade to new network protocols that support 100G speeds or PON-2, each building will now be pre-provisioned for it at the data center.

By the end of 2018, we’re proud to say that Pilot will offer this feature over the entire network and will be deploying it for all lit fiber services across our portfolio of 450+ locations.

Whether you’re a current Pilot customer who will enjoy the benefits of this feature, a member of the press, a channel partner, a building manager considering new providers, or just an active participant in the telecom community, we hope everyone reading this is excited about innovation in the telco space. Our team is forever committed to finding new ways to improve the experience for customers, and raising the bar for providers everywhere.


Rob Walker is the Director of R&D at Pilot. Connect with him on Linkedin.

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