July 26, 2022 by Lyle Ungar

Why It’s Time To Start Thinking “Modular” With Your Broadband Operations


Lyle Ungar

Professor of Computer and Information Science, University of Pennsylvania


Modularity is key to the efficient design and operation of any system.

Everything complex is made up of modules. Just think: Your body has organs. Your organization has teams. Even your legacy car, the one that runs on gas, is modular. The engine, muffler, and brakes are all separate subsystems made by different vendors so they can be easily swapped out.

And, of course, your network is modular. All engineered systems are.

Software Is Replacing Hardware in Modular Systems

Software-defined radios use general purpose computing to do signal processing that was once done in specialized hardware. Cars are becoming computers. New cars have dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of computer microchips, grouped into modules from suspension to steering, touchscreens to transmissions. Critically, these all run software that can be monitored and updated.

Replacing modular hardware with software has enormous benefits.

  1. It’s easier to upload new software than replace hardware.
  2. Bug fixes and upgrades are headache-free.
  3. Development times are much quicker in a modular environment.
  4. Each module can be improved on its own.

When you replace hardware with software, particularly modular software, there are fewer moving parts that can break.

“Software-First” Modules Are the Gateway to Richer Data Collection

Data collection is a core component of improving every customer experience. Insightful data collection means you can be proactive, rather than reactive. This means you aren’t stuck in a cycle of unhappy customers, broken networks, and bugs. You can predict areas where you can step in.

Software modularity also gives you better data collection.

Your legacy car has relatively few sensors. It probably measures engine temperature and oxygen levels. It might estimate emissions. But it doesn’t know much about how your brakes or muffler are doing.

Elon Musk may not know how many bots there are on Twitter, but Tesla knows each time you accelerate or break—and how hard and how long you break. It is much cheaper to “instrument” software than hardware. The software already has all the data you might want.

The Sky’s the Limit With Pinpointed Data Collection

With the kind of data collection possible using “software-first” modules, there’s vastly faster diagnosis and problem resolution. Diagnosis of performance issues and failures is becoming like “Minority Report”-style precognition: Identify the fault, before it happens.

Network monitoring is similarly moving to prediction: Identify customers that are likely to complain next month about network delays. Addressing customer complaints before they are made—either invisibly or by contacting the customer to suggest a plan upgrade—is the best customer service.

The data from software modules also helps developers know which systems may need redesign. Which modules are reporting problems? Where are bits being dropped or delays introduced? This is what’s possible with smarter data collection.

How Software Modularity Impacts You

Switching to modern software modularity for your broadband operations will reduce maintenance costs and help you improve customer support.

Better monitoring lets you know what subscribers should get what notifications—and when they should get them. It also helps you resolve problems before subscribers even notice them. New revenue-generating services can be rapidly and easily added, reducing OPEX (operating expenses).

Software modularity makes it happen. It’s how you can enable your team to achieve real success by swiftly removing barriers and roadblocks. And it’s already here for broadband operations.

Connect with Lyle Ungar, professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania, on LinkedIn.

Copyright © Lyle Ungar 2022