When creating a fiber network, even the best laid plans can be upset by deployment issues. While some of these, such as unexpected weather or unforeseen environmental problems can’t be legislated against, many factors can be controlled through good planning, and in particular by providing a clear, well-structured Request for Proposal (RFP).
Consequently, in this article I want to outline the four key steps to writing and issuing a successful RFP, vital in helping you choose the best fiber installation partner for your project. Get it right and both the network planner and the installer have a strong platform to work to, which makes it easier to cope with any unforeseen problems if they occur.
1.Start with a business plan
Before you even begin to draft the RFP, you need to put in place a clear business plan and ensure it is signed off by all relevant stakeholders within your organisation. It needs to answer a number of questions:
- What is the overall objective of the project? How does it fit into any bigger strategy?
- How will you get achieve this objective?
- What are the interim steps that need to be made along the way?
- What can disrupt the plan (both internally and externally)? How can these factors be minimised or overcome?
- How long will it take?
2. What model will you use?
There are multiple ways of funding a network deployment, linked to how it will then be operated, who will have access, what content can be delivered and how revenues will be split. Ensure that you take legal advice to ensure that you adopt a model that meets your local regulations – obviously, these vary from country to country and even, in the US, from state to state. When choosing the model take account of any public or private funding that is available as this will impact the model you adopt.
There are essentially three types of network model – private, public and a private/public partnership. These then split further, dependent on whether the network is retail, wholesale, or a combination of both. The Gig.U: The University Community Next Generation Innovation Project has created an extremely useful guide to the models (and creating an RFP, more generally) that is available via the FTTH Council Americas website.
3. Deciding on procurement methods
Once you have your business plan and have decided on a model you need to move to the procurement phase. Here again you have multiple choices – do you use the standard Request for Proposal, begin with a Request for Information (RFI) or use Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS)? The route you choose may well vary dependent on where you are located – for example, in the EU procurement regulations will have a bearing on the timescale and method you decide upon.
What are the differences between an RFP, RFI and QBS?
Request for Information
As the name suggests this is a method of gathering information that can feed into your RFP. By asking suppliers to provide their input it can be used to guide your strategy, particularly around the architecture to deploy. This can help finalise your own decisions before moving to the RFP.
This method allows the network planner to pick the best qualified partner for the project. Organisations are invited to submit their qualifications, with the one that best matches needs then selected. Only after the QBS are details of project scope, budget and fees negotiated – meaning that many companies may shortlist more than one firm through QBS to aid in agreeing the best possible price.
Request for Procurement
The RFP sets out what the network owner is looking for, the method they want to use to deliver it, any technical specifications and general trading conditions. It does include a request for pricing, though, given the complexity of FTTH networks this should not be the sole criteria used to pick a partner. It is important to understand that deployment costs are just part of the project. You should look at total investment over a 3-5 year timeframe, including costs of maintenance, component replacement and ease of extending a network to new subscribers as part of your financial calculations.
4. What should be in your RFP?
As I’ve said, writing a solid RFP is the foundation of a successful project. Best practice is for a RFP to have five sections:
- Invitation to propose – what your project requirements are, how you will select a partner, closing dates and contact details
- General conditions – covering all of the details of the project, how you want work to be carried out, health and safety and necessary information about the site/environmental conditions
- Technical – for example, what technical specifications must the products used meet, including crush ratings and material type
- Product – linked to technical specifications, but the criteria for meeting network design, service requirements and environmental objectives
- Construction drawings – showing the site, route and any obstacles that you know of
For those that haven’t written an RFP before, there are a number of sources you can turn to for standard contracts, such as the Engineers Joint Contract Documents Committee (EJCDC) and the FTTH Council Americas site.
FTTH networks can be extremely complex, particularly when it comes to the last mile connections between the building and the backbone network. Therefore, to give yourself the best chance of long-term success, ensure you are providing a clear, straightforward and comprehensive Request for Proposal – time spent here will reap dividends when it comes to a trouble-free deployment for both planners and fiber installation partners.