Location Matters to Telecommunications
GIS use for telecommunications has slowly been growing over the past two decades. Historically, telecom companies have used either their own in-house information-gathering systems or purchased systems to gather the information that they needed. However, these information systems weren’t designed to work together because companies didn’t believe there was any need for these systems to share information.
Nowadays, telecommunications companies operate their own networks of equipment from multiple sources or vendors. Thus, interoperability between systems and information sharing between systems has become more and more of a requirement, especially with the rise of mergers that require the incorporation of or interaction with foreign networks.
This need for interoperability gave rise to the Telecommunications Management Network (TMN) system of standardized business organization. The TMN method of business support system organization specifies interoperability as standard using industry-wide protocols — GIS networks need to have this same level of support for interoperability for GIS applications to work well within the TMN-defined system that has become standard.
Tools that use geospatial data to map telecommunications began as department-specific tools that only worked within a specific scope. These geospatial data tools have been used to automate business processes and increase operational efficiency. As such, almost all telecommunications companies have integrated GIS into their workflows in a variety of ways.
Using GIS and Geospatial Data for Mapping and Customer Service in Telecommunications
So how is geospatial data integrated into the telecommunications industry? There are several ways, but here are the main ones.
Mobile Asset Management for Telecommunications
Mobile asset management (MAM) monitors the functionality and availability of the assets that store, control, and protect a company’s inventory throughout the supply chain. Such assets may include containers, tools, and even people. Businesses don’t want these things to get damaged or lost, and so they need MAM to assure their investments remain safe and they know where they all are. Geospatial data may be applied to conduct mobile asset management across a slew of different circumstances. Whether you need planning or real-time tracking, GIS offers ways to solve common MAM issues, such as:
- Providing real-time updates on local weather, allowing you to change or shift your plans to protect your assets;
- Displaying truck restrictions to allow drives to change routes based on things such as height and weight limits on roads;
- Offering a Geofencing Extension, allowing you to see data layers with information on postal code boundaries, for instance, as well as making drive-time calculations;
- Using a Fleet Connectivity Extension for mobile dispatch, including sending regularly updated ETAs to the dispatch center.
How GIS Improves Customer Service
Customer service data in the telecommunications industry is probably one of the more overlooked uses of GIS. However, in today’s market, customer service is what differentiates one company from another and may ultimately be what makes a customer pick one company over another.
The three largest aspects of customer relationship management as they relate to customer service are:
- Providing new services to customers in a timely manner;
- Responding to customer questions, denials of service, and other help tickets as necessary;
- Providing customers with updates on network performance, mobile workforce management, and automation as required.
These customer relationship management duties are easily accessible using GIS software. Using geospatial data, a customer service representative can bring up all a customer’s information — including information on their network — based solely on their location.
Most carriers that implement GIS-based customer relationship management services have found they’re able to resolve a customer’s issue during the initial call more often than not. With customer relationship management needs at an all-time high, improving customer service operations makes a big impact when it comes to the bottom line. Using GIS, carriers can increase the speed and quality of how they handle customer contacts, which augments customer satisfaction and means that customers are less likely to move to another carrier.
Geospatial Data also be used to handle customer problems in these situations:
- GIS can be used to track and explain service disruptions, giving customers a timetable for when service will be restored;
- Service technicians can use GIS to generate reports on service history for the area, which can help identify the root issue of certain problems;
- Since technicians can better solve issues the first time around, customer problems will be resolved in a timely manner, saving not only money on technician visits but time because of fewer customer calls;
- Using GIS means that a company can evaluate connections and disconnections as they occur in each area, meaning that the affected area can be more easily identified;
- GIS can also be used to identify customers in areas affected by denials-of-service, making it easier to organize customer-retention campaigns for the affected areas.
How Telecommunication Companies Can Use GIS Data to Improve Marketing
Unlike many other types of businesses, telecommunications companies are tied to their location, because it’s that location that determines their ability to market their services to their customers. Many telecommunications companies operate within designated “service areas,” with the infrastructure that delivers their services tied directly to the location of the customer or customers in question.
Both customer and business characteristics are segmented by geography using GIS. That same marketing GIS data can be employed by telecom companies to market more effectively by forecasting the demand for services and adjusting their infrastructure accordingly, which is another factor GIS can help with.
Using geospatial data to augment marketing allows telecommunications companies to target customers in certain areas and use this same data to predict where and when market growth will occur. This encourages the increase of networking budgets and the development and deployment of targeted marketing campaigns.
There are some problems with using geospatial data alone to map telecommunications and its use by customers in the places being mapped, such as:
- Customer demand is not static and may change based on the number of customers in an area. Thus, multiple geospatial data surveys may need to be conducted to get a full picture;
- Even if a company uses geospatial data to map telecom usage in its service area, it may be difficult to put an exact figure on the number of customers covered, making it hard to estimate the amount of equipment needed to adequately service an area;
- Geospatial and ground surveys require time, money, and manpower, and may need to be completed more than once, costing more time, money, and manpower until all surveys are completed.
A GIS-centric solution seeks to deal with some of these problems by:
- Extracting useful information from housing in the service area, such as the number of telecom customers in each home. Knowing this information allows companies to establish a correlation between network demand and the market potential of the customers in the given service area;
- Identifying the existing network spread and load by using geospatial data to mark network towers and other buildings. Once network spread and network load have been assessed, network growth and demand can be forecast to analyze network capacity and roll out infrastructure updates.
GIS and its accompanying geospatial data can be used to help design and build an efficient network to ensure that network growth and demand needs can be met without significant capital outlay. Geospatial data also lets a company view the plants and customers in each service area, allowing it to determine the number of workers and amount of equipment needed to serve customer demand for telecom in each service area.
Capital Planning for Telecommunications
Geospatial data for telecommunication capital planning is the information that defines current and future telecommunications demands. Information about current customer use and demand is used to create a network of telecommunications capacities based on area, then estimating the amount of spending that is required to build this capacity to meet customer demand.
GIS should be used to support decisions when it comes to capital planning. Effective capital planning requires effective capacity planning, and effective capacity planning needs up-to-date geospatial data that describe the existing network usage and capacity.
Common problems when it comes to map creation for use in capacity planning in support of capital planning include:
- More labor, time, and money is required than may be with equivalent GIS tools;
- Specialized survey tools may be needed, along with the trained personnel to operate the tools and collect data from them;
- Once the data has been collected, a map needs to be drawn, which requires hiring an illustrator or use of specialized software, which may cost even more;
- Once the map has been printed, it can’t be updated, meaning that another map must be made every time there is an update.
One GIS solution allows map creation right off the bat, meaning updating is easy and can be done in minutes straight from the software. The same map creation software means no specialized illustrators or illustration software are required — that means no artistic skill is required, either.
GIS Data for Telecommunications Network Engineering and Operations
Using GIS data for telecommunications network engineering is probably one of the most important purposes of GIS software. More and more, the telecommunications industry has been facing internal competition when it comes to the wireless sector. New wireless technologies, such as fifth-generation mobile networks — known colloquially as 5G — are forcing telecoms to redesign all or part of their network to meet the new demands imparted by the incoming 5G network licenses.
Designing a wireless network to meet customer demand requires several iterations of planning and testing and is a costly process all around. Since many mobile carriers have already paid for 3G and 4G licenses, they want to reduce the cost of not only building new networks but maintaining their current networks as they begin to roll the new ones out.
Glitches with current network monitoring and engineering methods include:
- Problem detection requires technicians to visit and revisit problem areas, costing money and time;
- Since the network is so spread out, emergency response to problem spots is not usually feasible, meaning there may be delays in service while towers or networks are repaired;
- Once repairs take place, network recovery takes time;
- Fault and problem report generation also take time, so problems can be fixed in the short term, but long-term solutions take more time due to the wait for said fault/problem reports.
When it comes to network design, one way to supplant most of these problems is to use GIS to perform a preliminary analysis of the service area. A preliminary GIS analysis takes customer data, terrain data, and land ownership information and spits out a list of potential antenna and tower sites. This configuration is then tested using a simulation of wireless coverage areas that propagate from the towers.
If this configuration proves optimal, it’s then tested in the field. If it provides optimal coverage, it’s then rolled out and put into practice. Using GIS means that planning and design costs can be reduced. This also limits the number of iterations of a specific tower configuration before it goes into practice, curtailing the need for as much costly field testing.
Other uses for GIS when it comes to network engineering and operations are:
- Monitoring network growth to update capacity to reduce the number of denial-of-service calls (DoS calls) and other help requests;
- Overall network monitoring for efficiency;
- Better fault monitoring, meaning that technicians are less likely to need to revisit problem areas;
- Network recovery time is lower since the network can be monitored from the central GIS software;
- Using GIS as opposed to traditional geospatial data-driven location services also helps when it comes to facilitating responses for emergency services, such as the police, fire department, or ambulances.
GIS also allows for resource tracking to determine whether resources are being used properly and optimally. Using GIS to track resource usage allows new hardware to be put where it can be used best.
Other Uses for GIS in Telecommunications
In addition to the main uses of data for telecommunications as discussed above, there are many uses for GIS that get swept up into the larger services but can end up being services themselves on their own:
- Determining and reporting on where a company’s network infrastructure is located and where new infrastructure can be placed;
- Determining and mapping where telecommunications services are offered and where they’ll be offered in the future;
- Mapping where most of a company’s customers are located and showing how this will affect network load;
- Identifying and locating problem spots in the network and figuring out how the network can be modified to reduce the incidence of such problem spots in the future.
Using GIS software enables the implementation of a network of services that shore up and support the data that has been collected by GIS. It can be mapped, visualized, and reported on, allowing it to be used for things like marketing, profit tracking, infrastructure development, and customer service — much more than the simple services offered by things like geospatial data and ground surveys.