As customer demands change, securing a robust supply chain to deliver networks quickly and cost-effectively is more important than ever

CommScope experts, partners and customers recently analysed challenges, shared experiences, and discussed tactics to secure a robust supply chain for future network at Connected Britain in 2020. 
Let’s take a closer look at the key takeaways.
The UK AltNet market is booming 
Government programmes and market demand are driving vast growth and a need for equipment and support among UK network operators. Covid-19 has also boosted connection and data requirements in recent months.
Over 160 AltNets plus associated installers and consultants are established within the market and are growing in strength, with many different user cases and constraints driving business decisions. New products, technologies and speeds are challenging planners and architects to deliver networks efficiently, rapidly, and in a scalable manner. A wide range of decision-making elements need to be taken into account in the UK, from geographical factors to density needs and an impending risk of supplier capacity crunch. These factors pose a unique challenge to supply chain robustness in the UK. 
AltNet are moving to the next phase of network maturity and large-scale investment will continue. Local OSP and AltNet development may peak two to three years from now and until then, growth will keep increasing. Major developments should continue for at least five to seven years. Of course, this places significant demand on supply chains. 
Collaboration is critical to success, from the early phases to building 
For manufacturers, collaboration with customers on planning and forecasting is vital to securing products for deployment. Not getting the right products on time means costs may rapidly spiral out of control. However, when multiple parties are involved in decision making, from planning to delivery, this requires special attention. Managing procurement cycles and engaging people is essential. Not only for AltNet business but also for partners that need to meet delivery requirements. Ongoing communication between operators, contractors and delivery partners is essential to understanding whether problems may arise and being able to address this quickly! 
Different disciplines should all have their say in product selection 
A good balance of requirements is essential but achieving this can be tricky. Reaching the right people can be easier in smaller organisations, as they grow it can be harder to break through barriers between silos. Planning procurement cycles and getting the right people around the table at the right time is essential. 
Going forward, it will be increasingly important that decision making is more consolidated and people at all levels of the company are briefed about decisions. Sales staff, for example, need to understand engineers’ choices. Some procurement departments might spend time negotiating a small percentage off of a product after comparing it to a similar product that is actually out of spec. As more and more people involved in everything from architecture to sales, design, civil works and active equipment have a seat at the table, forming relationships – and not only focusing on commercial aspects – becomes vital. 
Any forecast is better than no forecast 
A baseline – even if it’s not completely accurate ­– gives you something to review and manage going forward and if it’s more or less accurate, you can simply bump it up as business grows. Having no forecast at all makes it very hard for manufacturing organisations to build enough supply chain stock to meet everyone’s needs. Forecasting is often seen as a commercial task, but it’s important to get technical people on board in the sales cycle. This helps procurement develop accurate forecasts and translate them to supplier requirements. 
If a certain competency is missing, it makes sense to ask the manufacturer to help make forecasting decisions based on predictions of homes passed. Understanding the scale of a project and what is needed per home can help create a basic Bill Of Materials. 
Successful forecasting may mean making bold decisions and sticking to them. Keeping to a multi-year plan also allows suppliers to make bolder decisions, which allows them to offer minimum lead times, sufficient stock and high levels of delivery and quality. After all, longer-than-expected lead times are annoying, but being told you can only have a limited number of a certain product is more frustrating

Supply chain shortage isn’t just about products, but skills, too
Scaling up is dependent on access to hardware and stock as well as people and all AltNets are looking for talent in the same resource pool. The industry is working on addressing a vast resource gap. AltNets are trying to obtain key skills in an already overheated market, which means they will often need to make decision based on vendor support.
Equipment providers can play a major role in providing the right training easily and at a reasonable cost by creating easy-to-digest materials that aid networks when rolling out new connections, such as fibre, in densely populated areas. New planning tools can help engineers quickly identify the best network design topology for any project, walk them through the various network design aspects that need to be considered, and explain the available options and the pros and cons of each. This helps all providers – from incumbents to AltNets – to roll-out networks designed to meet the challenges of tomorrow, against the complexities of today. 
Furthermore, adding local resources or people from other geographies requires familiarisation with architecture, materials and equipment. Supply chain partners have a role to play in ensuring people do things the right way and finding solutions for making skillset deployment easier.  
A different approach to procurement: Prepare for surprises!  
Extreme current circumstances, such as the current Covid-19 crisis, also affect demand management, planning and forecasting. Instead of striving towards maintaining minimum stock levels and ‘just in time’ delivery, the focus is on business continuity. That’s why supplier relationship management is essential. If suppliers can’t deliver, clients need to know in time and find solutions, perhaps by increasing local stock or inflating forecasts. Cost optimisation is important in this respect – if you need a two month supply locally stored in UK warehouse that comes at a price. 
The CommScope ePlanner: Mapping topology and deployment needs
CommScope can work with you to develop a demand forecast for your future network growth. This is based on our understanding of operator strategies, leveraging 30 years of global experience with a wide variety of FTTx network challenges, for which we can leverage our extensive portfolio of solutions. 
Our ePlanner allows AltNets to understand different network technologies to help save time in planning and create a Bill of Materials. Based on insight into telco and AltNet challenges, CommScope has grouped all products according to network architectures. This allows for easy selection of easily scalable network topology and products, making decisions that will stand the test of time. Cost is important but resilience and flexibility are key. 
As requirements are very different, we don’t take a ‘one size fits all’ approach but look at all topologies that can be used in the UK. The planning tool takes customers through the different elements they need to include, including the thinking behind those elements, all the way to product selection. From day one, planners, managers and commercial teams can model different environments and understand which model works best from a Total Cost of Ownership perspective. 
The ePlanner has been successfully used by several key AltNet to plan networks over the last year. Now, the tool has been updated with more topologies (33), and additional solutions to give a wider variety of detailed options. 
On the second day of Project Rollout (18th March) from 12:35-13:35, I will be speaking with Mike Brooman, Head of Procurement and Logistics, Community Fibre, and Kevin Murphy, MD Fibre and Network Delivery, Openreach, on how more effective supply chains can better support rollouts. You can register for the event here.
Contact CommScope to find out more about the ePlanner and don’t miss our panel discussion at Project Rollout.
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