Accelerated rollout of fiber-optic broadband in Germany
The introduction of broadband across Germany, especially in rural areas, is slow, with many households waiting impatiently for connectivity. One of the main obstacles is the extended planning stage.
Laying fiber-optic cables is not that simple. But the widespread criticism is understandable. A slow internet connection makes it difficult to implement teleworking, to deploy state-of-the-art smart-home solutions, to attract new businesses—and it can even lead to existing digital-economy jobs being relocated elsewhere. Construction work itself is typically completed quickly and without significant impact on existing infrastructure. But there is a long lead time for planning and approval before a cable can be placed in the ground.
Deutsche Telekom is collaborating with Fraunhofer IGD to find a way of rendering the time-consuming visual inspections of proposed cabling routes unnecessary. The solution, dubbed Fibre3D, allows planning in a virtual environment. This eliminates the time and expense involved in making on-site visits, and requires no additional effort at Deutsche Telekom, as Fibre3D makes use of existing photographic images. Cameras and scanners mounted to vehicles capture 2D and 3D pictures of the roads where cables are to be laid, enabling the planner, or more accurately their avatar, to move around freely in, and view, a virtual environment.
Fiber-optic cables – detangling the process
As soon as a local town or county has received approval for a new fiber-optic broadband network, the first step is to install a distribution cabinet. This manages the individual connections to local buildings. And although the white box on the side of the street may seem fairly innocuous, choosing its precise location is no easy matter. The routes must be cost-effective but also meet the town/county’s other requirements. Each street needs to be carefully analyzed to ensure no unexpected events will obstruct installation work and cause delays to the project. After all, for the initial laying of cables, the asphalt surface has to be ripped up to make room for the plastic ducts. These make it easy to install and later maintain the fiber-optic cables, which can be inserted with the help of compressed air and replaced just as easily.
But back to the distribution cabinet: Before the planner arrives on-site, a suitable position is found and marked on a 2D map. However, two dimensions are not always enough, lacking essential information on, for example, windows and driveways. This forces the on-site planner to make ad hoc decisions. And this is where Fibre3D offers a way forward. It makes use of visual information that, at least in theory, is readily available—360° photographs of the roads already exist. Machine learning solutions are capable of automatically recognizing trees, cars, and doors by means of vehicle-mounted 3D scanners that additionally generate a point cloud of the spatial environment. As a result, distances can be precisely measured. Fraunhofer IGD has now been tasked with developing a tool that consolidates and combines these huge quantities of data, and provides them to planners in a form that can be used easily and intuitively. To this end, the researchers harness the processing power of cloud computing, reduce the volume of data, and filter out the information required for 3D imagery. This is also the basis for real-time visualization with Fibre3D on the web.
Virtual on-site inspection saves time and money
The approval process between Deutsche Telekom and the local government agency commences as soon as the proposed cabling route has been determined. A key step is the creation of a before-and-after comparison of the local environment—showing exactly where the distribution box will be positioned in the future. And visualization not only makes it easier for planners to imagine the proposed work; it also makes it simpler for the corresponding authorities. This means fewer follow-up questions and misunderstandings. Going forward, the aim is to add rich communication functionality to Fibre3D, enabling all stakeholders to enjoy full visibility into the planning process.
Our core competence visual computing helps optimize infrastructures such as supply networks. It provides for sustainable development in urban settings, supports the energy turnaround, and drives intelligent living.