Automation & IP Management: Solutions for Broadband Provider G.Network
While the United States, South Korea, and China are the leaders in adopting 5G technology, and South Korea along with Hong Kong have the fastest broadband speeds in the world, unfortunately, the United Kingdom has one of the slowest broadband speeds in the region. Moreover, London is among the cities with the worst Internet in the UK. How so? Mainly because of the copper cable that is much more widespread than fiber.
G.Network is an ambitious company with a monumental mission of upgrading the infrastructure and providing Londoners with full-fibre broadband. The company attracted significant investment and, in the coming years, plans to dig thousands of kilometers of UK capital’s streets to replace copper cables with fibre.
G.Network’s grand plans met certain challenges, and Impressit was there to help. So what exactly were the issues we had to deal with?
- First of all, the level of human error while manually provisioning network devices was relatively high. And if we take into account the fact that G.Network plans to grow extensively, this level could rise.
- Second — we had to improve IP address management.
- And the last one — G.Network strives to minimize human interactions and offer contactless setting, connection, and disconnection to the customers.
All of these problems are sure to be solved by automation. And that was the Impressit team’s task. Our team consisted of 5-7 people. In the beginning, we had several calls with G.Network’s network engineers that briefly introduced the system to us and explained their problems and all the expectations. After that, we planned our work, divided it into separate tasks, and started our journey.
Improving IP Address Management
The first big challenge for us was to improve the IP address management. It was, maybe, the most critical task as setting up proper IP address management allowed us to solve all the following issues.
Any Internet provider buys thousands of IP addresses for their clients to use. Each IPv4 address costs around $20–30, so it is obvious that appropriate IP address management saves any provider much money.
G.Network uses the software called NetBox for IP address management. All the IP addresses are put into NetBox and assigned to clients. This database visualizes the company’s network — where are the clients situated, whether it is a home or business broadband, how many devices are connected, which IP is assigned to which client.
Everything starts small — with a single IP address that an engineer needs to put into the system. It should be done properly as different clients are put into various groups. For instance, G.Network has the rule to put fixed IP addresses into groups of eight. In order to do it right, there is a subnet mask that shows how many IP addresses are stored in this group. We know how to work with these masks and determine if the IP addresses there are fixed or dynamic.
Now G.Network can properly group the IP addresses (e.g. by street, by device etc.) with the help of IP prefixes. We can work with prefixes of different capacities and for different purposes. G.Network is able to create static blocks of IP addresses for corporate use (meaning they offer 10-20 addresses and client uses them as they want).
Another problem G.Network faced was the following — when a client was disconnected from the network, their former IP address could still be marked as the one in use even though it was not active. As I’ve mentioned previously, each IP address costs money, so “losing” them in the system and not actually using them entails some financial losses. We managed to fix this issue, and now IP addresses are appropriately marked in the system. It is done automatically, so it excludes the possibility of human error here as well.
Improving the Configuration Process
After we perfected the IP address management, we could begin the next stage — improve on the configuration process.
An optical line termination (OLT) is a device connected to the main fiber. It usually serves two purposes:
- converting the standard signals of the PON system;
- coordinating the multiplexing between conversion devices on optical network terminals (ONT) located at customer premises.
One of our tasks was the configuration of OLT devices in order to save time & effort for G.Network engineers as well as to minimize the number of errors. By configuring the OLTs, we are also simplifying the work with ONTs.
Before we began automating for G.Network, the company's engineers had to do many things manually — they had to visit the client's premises and look for ONT’s serial numbers and then manually add the commands so OLT would recognize the ONTs and the configuration would be possible. Considering that these commands have complicated syntax, imply various parameters and change from client to client, there were quite a lot of errors.
So what are we doing exactly? Now G.Network engineers can perform a lot of the tasks through the application. After getting the information about the new order, the G.Network engineer puts the order number into the app and gets all the necessary information about the customer — whether it is a private client or a business, which IP address should be reserved and then assigned to this client, which tariff the client chose, and which speed of the Internet connection should be delivered.
After that, an engineer gets the serial numbers of available ONT devices and chooses the one that belongs to this particular client. Then the “Generate” button appears, and after clicking it, an engineer gets the number of commands which should be copied and pasted to the terminal. After these actions, the commands are performed, and the device is configured, meaning the new client is connected to the network. Moreover, we also automated the upgrade process (when the client changes the tariff and respective changes have to be made) and the disconnect process (if the client wants to stop using G.Network’s services). This part of our work already improved the processes inside the G.Network and made human errors almost impossible.
However, this is not the end! Our next step is to automate the configuration process fully. Instead of getting a bunch of commands and putting them into the terminal, an engineer will get an “Activate” button. Clicking this button will perform all the necessary actions to connect a new G.Network client to the network. If there is an error or any changes are required, the respective information will be displayed in the app, so the engineer will be able to make corrections.
Working with Hardware
Cooperation with G.Network also gave us extensive experience of working with network hardware. Although this was a separate task, we could not move with it if we didn’t improve the IP address management first.
At the beginning of our work, G.Network used Huawei telecom equipment. To be honest, it was pretty challenging as Huawei devices had no software, and we worked directly with the hardware via SSH session.
From the beginning of 2021, G.Network switched to Nokia equipment. Luckily, these devices come with the AMS software (which, simply put, is a XML-based API to interact with Nokia devices). However, we still decided to directly work with Nokia equipment at the beginning to actually understand how it works, how to send commands and execute them etc. We still do that now for testing purposes.
After that, we started to use the software Nokia provided. Nokia support helped us a lot initially, giving us training and explaining all the necessary details. This software handles errors correctly, has the rollback option if something goes wrong, and significantly simplifies all the work we performed for G.Network.
We also have experience working with Cisco devices. G.Network currently uses the Cisco IOS DHCP server, which we use to configure fixed IP addresses. It has its own interface, and we learned how to work with it.
Currently, we are also researching PRE-AGG devices and learning how to work with them. Now we are using them when we need to generate a whole new static block of IP addresses.
So far, now we can work with network equipment both directly and using the software. And I am sure we can work with the equipment from any manufacturer as in general, they are quite similar.
All in all, our team truly enjoys working with G.Network (to find out more — read the G.Network case study on our website). It was a completely new experience, and I can say that we are ready for any challenges in the future. Our solution is a great thing that will simplify work for engineers and customer support managers of any telecommunications company. We have certain expertise in network management and are ready to tackle any issues with network equipment.
Our experience with improving IP address management is also quite important. It does not depend on the device company is using — devices can have different interfaces, but the logic is all the same. We really dug deep into how NetBox works, and now we understand all the connections within the system, how it works, how to group and manage the IP addresses. Considering how crucial NetBox is for each company that uses it, this experience will be incredibly valuable if we ever work with Internet providers again.
One last thing to say: if you are in the telecommunications field and you’re looking to modernize your business — just message us; we know what to do!