GIS, a Vital Tool for Deploying a New Broadband Network
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) is funding broadband infrastructure projects in rural areas that previously might have waited years to obtain high-bandwidth services. The companies that have been awarded the funds to build these networks have cleared one obstacle but now face the real challenge—constructing a state-of-the-art broadband network and ensuring that it can be operated profitably. Fortunately, geographic information system (GIS) technology can help these companies evaluate market potential, then plan, build, and successfully operate these broadband networks.
Using readily available marketing data, GIS provides tools to identify areas of high demand and consumer ability as well as consumer willingness to purchase the new services. GIS tools can also be used to segment the market into residential and commercial service areas.
GIS can then help optimize the allocation of capital resources required during the planning phase. Planning and engineering a network that avoids obstacles and maximizes the use of existing infrastructure will ensure that construction meets the capital and time constraints imposed by the terms of the award. Existing infrastructure can be identified and evaluated to determine its feasibility to support the new broadband network. Many of the projects will involve the construction of new fiber networks. Quickly and cost-effectively building these networks will require using existing poles or duct runs. Identifying these types of facilities so they can be leveraged for attachments or fiber runs will speed construction and reduce capital costs. However, this can only happen if the information is readily accessible to the planners and engineers in a usable format. Often, network expansion projects are delayed or exceed their capital budgets because these groups don’t have access to the information they need on existing infrastructure. This results in construction delays and/or budget overruns. Putting information into a GIS where it can be displayed visually in maps or images provides easy and useful access for all the groups that need this type of information.
The network construction will most likely be outsourced, which will make the management of contractors challenging. Integrating the workflow into GIS helps companies monitor contractors and network build-out through the storage of work orders and engineering diagrams. Field access is available using mobile devices that can display network engineering schematics, providing access to real-time information. If field changes are required, the updates can be transmitted back to the GIS, posting as-built information quickly and accurately. An operational viewer provides project managers, executives, and marketing managers with the information they need to manage construction, track progress, and plan marketing and sales campaigns. In addition, operations staff members can be aware of when the network will be activated so they can have staff trained and ready to perform installations, minimizing the delay between activation and revenue generation.
Once the network has been activated, marketing, selling, and connecting to customers requires that other key operational workgroups know the location of the network and service capabilities. If the information is locked away in an engineering drawing, the sales and customer care organizations struggle to determine serviceability and answer customer questions. GIS provides access to this information using Web-based applications that clearly show customer locations and new service areas. Customers are connected promptly and correctly, because service technicians and installers have field access to network diagrams and assignments through mobile devices. At the end of the project, the company has an accurate record of new service areas and construction costs.
GIS addresses common organizational business needs and challenges by integrating location into existing workflows. GIS implementations provide features and functionality required for secure data management, analysis, planning, visualization, and dissemination. Using location as the basis for all these functions enables data to be transformed into localized actionable intelligence that can then be used for decision making and execution. GIS modeling and analysis tools enable organizations to align their workflows and processes to achieve business goals.
Data management tools allow storage and management of various datasets for initial and ongoing broadband mapping requirements. Organizations can centralize and standardize data and provide access to a diverse user base through server-based GIS software. These data management capabilities are crucial, because successful mapping of revenue opportunities ensures that the network will be designed and constructed in areas of demand sufficient to generate the revenue necessary to support the capital investment (see figure 1).
Figure 1. Average Household Income.
GIS technology provides an excellent platform to help in planning the networks by displaying the location of existing pole locations, fiber routes, access points, and other important infrastructure. Understanding the location of the network and access points is the critical first step in determining the options for planning networks that minimize capital investments and time to market. Figure 2 shows how visual imagery and mapping technology can be integrated into a Web-based system to show pole locations and space availability for attaching fiber cables.
Figure 2. Integrating Pole Mapping Information and Imagery.
Designing a network that stays within the capital budget is only one of the challenges that planners face. Designing networks that satisfy business customers' service needs and deliver adequate revenues to justify the return on investment can be challenging. Planners need to understand the revenue opportunities along proposed routes, but manually assessing multiple scenarios and identifying an optimal solution are complex and time consuming. They need a solution that helps them accurately model complex scenarios and quickly evaluate alternatives. Esri's ArcGIS software provides a tool called ModelBuilder that helps planners in this process. Figure 3 demonstrates how existing and planned fiber routes and access points can be mapped and visualized using ArcGIS technology.
Figure 3. Location of Fiber Routes and Access Points.
Customer's requesting service can be geocoded, which places their locations on a map (figure 4). Photographic imagery can be used to increase understanding of the surrounding environment and the building-to-road offsets.
Figure 4. Image of Customer Location and Surrounding Area.
Additional information gleaned from using a street layer and other land features in ArcGIS can help identify factors that will impact construction. For example, figure 5 shows how far a customer is from network access points and potential construction obstacles such as streams, parks, and major highway interchanges.
Figure 5. Fiber Access Locations in Blue and Construction Obstacles in Red.
You can visualize and evaluate potential routes in relation to obstacles with GIS. The Esri Model Builder, a flexible technology for constructing models in ArcGIS, can be used to create processes that automatically find optimal routes (figure 6) while circumventing major construction barriers.
Figure 6. Proposed Fiber Route.
Adding a buffer around the planned fiber route identifies additional businesses that could be served through the new planned network (figure 7). Information on size and type of businesses, as well as number of employees, can be used to estimate additional service revenue potential. Detailed business data, such as estimates on use of information technology or telecommunications spending, available from companies such as GeoResults, can be integrated into the planning and analysis process. All this information helps the planner understand the revenue opportunities and can be used to support the project.
Figure 7. Businesses and Revenue Potential along Proposed Fiber Route.
As construction progresses, marketing, sales, and operations can track construction progress with updates provided from the field using mobile devices. Using GIS from planning to service installation provides the entire organization with an enterprise view of the service rollout, ensuring that each organization is ready to perform its roles in supporting new broadband customers. GIS will help companies meet their service activation commitments while achieving their capital and revenue targets.
About the Author
Randy Frantz, telecommunications and location-based services (LBS) solutions manager for Esri, has more than 27 years of global telecommunications management experience. For more information on Esri and GIS-based telecommunications solutions, visit esri.com/osp.
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