Reducing telecoms supply chain shortages
2021 witnessed one of the worst supply chain crises of the last century. COVID-19, geopolitical tensions and rapidly changing consumer patterns led to unprecedented disruptions and the telecommunications industry wasn’t immune from the ensuing chaos.
But while headlines warn that the worst is not over, there are things that telcos can do to navigate the crisis. Here Marcin Bala, chief technology officer of telecom solutions provider Salumanus, shares his tips.
The popularity of remote and hybrid working means that internet service providers (ISPs) must step up to meet consumers’ increasingly higher expectations, while prioritising bandwidth for essential services like healthcare, remote education and public security.
At the same time, ISPs must ensure the functionality of IoT networks and cloud-based services, which are critical for the continuing operation of businesses in all sectors. Add to this the pressure to speed up the transition to 5G, and it’s easy to see why the telecom sector is under tremendous stress.
Supply chain shortages complicate the situation, making it harder for service providers to deliver on their promises. So, what can be done to have greater control of our supply chain and ensure uninterrupted delivery? And how do ISPs spot a reliable solutions provider who will not let them down?
Long lead times have plagued the telecom industry forever. Big providers such as Cisco and Juniper already had lead times of eight to twelve weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic, but these have now tripled. Another problem is that some networks rely on complex and interdependent ecosystems, so that even when most components are readily available, delays on only one element for example, routers or switches can compromise the whole project.
To mitigate the negative consequences of shortages, it’s crucial that ISPs diversify their supply chains and avoid over-relying on one provider. Adding new providers to their list of approved suppliers is the best guarantee that at least one of them will be able to deliver the required components.
Ideally, ISPs should have visibility of their extended supply chains and know where their provider of choice produces or sources the desired components. For example, Salumanus relies on two or more sources for each product, while also ensuring the production of high-quality transceivers through its own manufacturing line, GBC Photonics.
A glocal mindset
A business approach influenced by both global and local considerations hence, glocal is the best bet for supply chain continuity. ISPs should be aware of how the local socio-political climate is impacting their provider of choice and react accordingly.
For example, although our GBC Photonics products are manufactured in Europe, Salumanus will start stocking in the UK to ensure speedy delivery for its UK customers, bypassing Brexit-related delays. It’s important that ISPs have full visibility of how their providers source and stock components, and that they use this information to understand whether or not the provider has implemented a plan to overcome potential difficulties, such as delays in customs.
When components are hard to get, there’s nothing more useful than products that can be re-purposed for multiple applications. Take optical transceivers as an example. Any network tends to incorporate equipment from several vendors, and because most of them require the use of proprietary transceivers, operators will have to keep them all in stock.
Moreover, the share of equipment from a specific vendor in a network can change over time, as customers might decide to upgrade existing hardware with equipment from a different provider. This means that the matching transceivers will have to be replaced as well.
Luckily, universal transceivers eliminate the need to stock countless versions of the same product. Thanks to GBC Photonics’ Simple Recode Device, operators can change the compatibility of optical transceivers at any time, making them universal. At a time of supply chain shortages, re-purposing existing transceivers can be a blessing for service providers.
According to all predictions, it will be a while before telecoms supply chains go back to normal. In the meanwhile, diversifying our sources and using smart hardware solutions offer the best chances of success.
The author is Marcin Bala, chief technology officer of telecom solutions provider Salumanus.