CityFibre Boosts Speed of UK Full Fibre Network Testing with Automation

Network operator CityFibre, which has already expanded their full fibre broadband ISP network to cover 3.6 million UK premises, claims to have made the testing of new products, network technology changes and software upgrades “up to” 100x faster – while also increasing test capacity by 300% – through the adoption of a fully automated test environment.

Just to recap. CityFibre currently aspires to cover up to 8 million UK premises with their new FTTP network (funded by c.£2.4bn in equity, c.£4.9bn debt and c.£800m of BDUK subsidy) – across over 285 cities, towns and villages (c.30% of the UK). But it remains unclear precisely when this will be achieved – the original goal was for the end of 2025, but their current build + M&A plan may only get them up to c.6m (if it all goes well).

NOTE: Cityfibre is supported by UK ISPs such as Vodafone, TalkTalk, Zen Internet, iDNET and others, but they aren’t all live or available in every location yet (often due to a mix of technical reasons and exclusivity agreements.

However, every major network operator still needs to test new hardware and software solutions before deploying them into their networks, which is a process that can take a lot of time (months or even years for bigger changes). But CityFibre claim that their newly adopted test infrastructure from Red Helix, as well as design and implementation expertise from IGXGlobal UK, has significantly improved this process.

As a result, the operator claims to have now “fully automated” the dedicated facility where all their new products, network technology changes and software upgrades are tested prior to implementation (reality check – there are usually still humans involved as you can’t do everything via robots quite yet, thankfully). At this point, the announcement becomes a bit more like dry marketing, so we’ll just quote it.

CityFibre’s Statement

With tests previously taking 15 minutes now taking under 10 seconds and the ability to run tests outside core working hours, CityFibre’s engineers have more time to address issues raised during the tests themselves. The automation solution also enables rapid analysis and interrogation of test data, while maximising equipment lifecycle by reducing manual touches in an otherwise high touch environment.

The test infrastructure provided by Red Helix combines advanced technologies such as Keysight Ixia Novus and IxLoad platforms to simulate complex network environments and improve equipment lifecycle, reliability and flexibility. To facilitate seamless physical connectivity and eliminate the need for cabling before each test, Huber+Suhner Polatis optical switches and Lepton Systems Layer 1 switches are used. The test infrastructure environment is then controlled using Quali CloudShell test automation software, allowing for continuous remote testing, scheduling, and management of multiple tests through a simple interface, with consolidated reporting.

Design and implementation expertise provided by IGXGlobal UK helped to deliver the new automated testing framework. The framework, which incorporates robust Open Source Testing Frameworks integrated into Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) tooling, enables engineers to schedule and rapidly perform hundreds of tests in a single keystroke, with results then automatically highlighting issues. The same framework also enables CityFibre to fully test any new software release or emerging technology in a consistent and repeatable way.

In short, some testing will be a lot quicker than before and that means they’ll be able to bring new products, network technology and software upgrades to market sooner, which is good (provided it does a better job on the quality side than the old-fashioned methods).

As CityFibre’s CTO, David Tomalin, said: “Rigorous testing is key to ensuring that new products and network technology upgrades can get to market faster … This will deliver even better outcomes for our wholesale partners and the homes and businesses they serve.”

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