We take a look at the emergence of GIS in the 1980s and 90s, how it became the dull but reliable tool of the network engineer, and why it might soon become the hottest thing in OSS.
What is GIS?GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, are concerned with physical aspects of the network and the environment the network and users occupy.
In the simplest case, a GIS provides a mapping capability to record the precise location of devices and customers. In addition to mapping, the GIS will hold network-specific physical properties such as the route and capacity of a duct holding cables, or the position of devices within each of the service provider’s sites.
As well as the physical, GIS applications may model the physics of network resources, such as signal degradation over a length of fiber or radio propagation of a mobile cell site.
A GIS network model will include a record of other physical dependencies like available power and air-conditioning capacity at a site, of the presence of buildings and foliage in the line-of-site between two microwave receivers.
GIS and Network Planning
The role of GIS in network planning is to provide a means of finding space to install new devices and run new cables.
Sending an engineer to a site, digging holes in the ground, and installing devices are all time-consuming, expensive tasks. Planning allows much of the initial planning to take place without a site visit, and can identify the most suitable location to deploy new resources.
Who? Ericsson Network Engineer
Network Engineer, one of the stable of old school OSS products acquired along with Telcordia, is perhaps the best known traditional GIS system used by telcos. It has a long heritage and, in the days before Inventory and Service Fulfilment emerged, it often functioned as the primary planning and service design tool – Back in the 80s and even the 90s, service design was about hooking up copper wires.
Inside Plant, Outside Plant
Inside-plant GIS applications provide a schematic of a building, tower, or cabinet, identifying the exact location of devices and the routing of cables through the site. An additional important part of inside-plant planning is identifying the availability of sufficient power and air-conditioning; both being limited and expensive resources.
Outside-plant GIS applications are, as the name suggests, about physical resources located in the street, fields and on other peoples’ buildings. Again, it is concerned with identifying exactly where a resource is and finding space for new devices and cabling. Outside-plant tools are also used for identifying potential new sites and some initial civil engineering planning tasks.
Who? GE Smallworld
Emerging at a similar time to Network Engineer, Smallworld took the approach of delivering a solution to a range of utility companies rather than just telco. While arguable not as specialized to networks and OSS as Network Engineer it none the less became a part of many telcos’ planning toolbox.
Smallworld even attempted to extend its appeal to telcos with a Logical Network Inventory variant but this failed to gain significant traction at a time when Inventory began to address the need of service and capacity planning.
GIS and Radio Planning
In recent years there has been a bit of a growth in GIS applications as radio planning for 3G and LTE has resulted in more cell sites and more complex interaction between those sites.
These applications will often include some RF optimization capabilities and the design of point-to-point microwave links (a wireless alternative to using cables to connect cellular sites to the network). The performance and configuration of microwave links is heavily influence by physical factors such as line-of-sight, distance, angle, and so on meaning that a GIS is the natural place to carryout related planning and design activities.
Straddling the domains of radio planning and Big Data, Guavus offers a GIS-based application for analysis of mobile network and customer experience. Being able to map cell sites, signal issues, customer locations and customer experience in a single GIS lends itself to Big Data analysis to get to the root cause of problems and identify potential solutions.
GIS as Big Data
The adoption of GIS-based OSS applications was primarily driven by network engineers responsible for installing and maintaining equipment. But, as is the case with Inventory data, CSPs now recognize the value of the data in GIS for more commercial purposes. Augmented with demographic data, and able to model the ‘reachability’ of customers, GIS is increasingly the basis of marketing analytics to determine which customers can be profitably connected to the network.
The Future of GIS
For a couple of decades, GIS took a back seat, relegated to the dull but necessary jobs of planning fiber routes and modelling RF signals.
Today, GIS is re-emerging at the center of the Big Data and Customer Experience movement. As the need to analyse customer mobility, service quality and network reach all converge, GIS will play a significant role in everything from company strategy, to market analysis, and real-time network planning.
Learn more about GIS, Analytics and other OSS Applications
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