With the rise of new technologies such as 5G and IoT (Internet of things), the use of location technology and data for telecommunication companies is expected to intensify and reach an unprecedented level of usage.
This will lead to a dramatic increase in data volumes, speed and processing capacity, as well as analysis complexity, putting pressure on existing capabilities and increasing the need for geoenrichment datasets.
At the same time this is happening, areas such as telecom network planning, sales and customer service will all benefit from location technology and big data, enabling better and smarter use of resources, which will guarantee customer satisfaction and make telco operators more competitive.
The role of geospatial technologies in the telecommunication planning activities
Location technology underpins telecom network planning, risk management and performance monitoring. The need for accurate and detailed geospatial data will intensify when organizations are planning new assets for more complex 5G telecom networks. At the same time, telecom operators will need to integrate spatial data and big data into their operations.
Telecom network planners and RF engineers have been using GIS (Geographic Information System Mapping) for a long time through specialized wireless and wireline network planning tools. However, new technologies such as 5G and fixed wireless are driving the convergence of wireline and wireless networks.
In addition, network densification is increasing, causing more challenges to network planning activities. With this increased complexity also comes the need for more advanced modeling that relies on more accurate geospatial data beyond typical average resolution (30m) terrain elevation model and clutter data. Today’s wireless signal propagation modeling tools need to integrate high accuracy submeter modeling data including 2.5D and 3D, but also actual field measurements.
For example, 5G networks using millimeter waves require operators to install up to ten times as many cell sites per square kilometer compared to 4G networks. This means that detailed spatial data, such as pole data and street furniture, is necessary to enable precise planning of the infrastructure’s potential installation site. It also means that high accuracy submeter data is required to determine if 5G signal paths are obstructed by objects such as buildings and trees. Only location data with the highest accuracy is viable for such careful planning and analysis work for future telecom networks. High accuracy modeling geodata, including building footprints with height/elevation, is now becoming increasingly available, and will be crucial for telecom operators to do planning, modeling, and completing other work to finalize future assets.
In the past, GIS allowed telecom operators to perform manual visual analysis when doing tasks such as site selection and terrain analysis during the planning process for different parts of the network. Over time, the network equipment installation pace will increase, and this type of work will become more and more automated. Then, the real challenge will be to use GIS for data integration, as a result of the convergence of wireless and wireline networks.
Network Performance monitoring
Network development challenges and focus are shifting from coverage to network performance and supporting new telecommunication technologies.
Using geospatial to perform RAN (Radio Access Network) performance analytics, allows monitoring and troubleshooting in real time but also forecasting network utilization increases, which is becoming an integrated part of network planning.
To perform that sort of geospatial analytics, the GIS platforms will need to integrate massive amounts of spatiotemporal data, whether it’s network measurement data or traces from millions of IoT devices. Besides connecting to all these external data sources, the GIS technologies will also need to perform geospatial operations at scale on the big data environment. Telecom companies will have to combine their big data and geospatial strategy soon to be able to keep up with network performance monitoring needs and adjust the network capacity based on the current and forecasted needs.
Risk and Asset Management
Location technology does not only help telecom operators manage internal infrastructure and assets, but also allows them to mitigate or prevent risks by quickly taking actions whenever a problem occurs. This way, the number of affected customers can be kept to a minimum and the same goes for affected assets or parts of the network.
NOCs (Network Operating Centers) can leverage geospatial technology to get a clear overview of physical and human assets, and proactively monitor environmental risks like hurricanes, earthquakes and storms, but also other risks related to health and safety that could threaten the network operations or require intervention. All of this is not limited to visual mapping dashboards, but can also leverage automated alerts triggered from the GIS system based on geofencing or risk proximity. This will allow organizations to take the proper action faster.
Mobile workforce management
5G networks and infrastructure will become more complex than the 3G and 4G networks meaning a drastic increase in the number of internal assets (towers, microcells). This will require more installation and maintenance work. This in turn will put pressure on the field service workforce to be more efficient. From route planning optimization to dispatch and vehicle tracking, to real-time outage intervention status, geospatial technology will be the answer to improving and automating several aspects of the mobile workflow management.
For instance, you can use geospatial technology to perform a service prequalification before sending a technician in the field or provide the technician with multiple prequalified serving towers as alternate options when installing a Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) antenna for fixed wireless broadband internet. Making sure the field has access to submit information at any time and place, both connected and disconnected, will limit the need to go back and forth with the office, and will ultimately raise workforce efficiency.
Using location technology for getting out to customers
Today, the telecommunication industry is very competitive. This forces the telecommunication carriers to differentiate themselves through their customer experience. Geospatial technology and data are indispensable for telecom operators to transform the customer experience with marketing, serviceability and support.
Location technology and data can help identify the best market to develop based on information such as population density or population segmentation expenditures. Opportunity market analysis, spectrum license auctions, network deployments and sending targeted marketing are all examples of how using geospatial data to understand the market down to the property level can make a huge competitive advantage.
For instance, a geospatial process can prequalify millions of existing clients for discounts on a new product or a higher service level than what they currently have.
While demographic data was previously enough for targeting potential new telecom customers, 5G technology will require hyper-local micro-market segmentation and even property level data. Combined (geoenriched) with additional location information and context, that level of understanding of the targeted market will yield new insights that can give telecom companies a strong competitive edge.
5G and fixed wireless will become more and more important, complex, have more services and different products for different speeds and technologies; 4G, 5G, LTE-M, VoLTE, etc.
The pre-sales process will require the evaluation of more options. As an example, we can evaluate if broadband internet should be offered through fiber or using fixed wireless, at a specific property, based on construction costs.
Both 5G and fixed wireless qualification will require us to spatially interrogate submeter resolution propagation models. This level of accuracy will force the usage of address point geocoding accuracy or building footprints. A geocoding solution that offers close to 100% address point coverage by combining multiple address sources will ensure an optimal accuracy.
Store location and performance
Optimal store performance depends on markets with good potential, good store locations and serviceability in the area.
In today’s highly competitive market, selecting the optimal store location is crucial for success. Geospatial technology can help identify various success factors such as business drivers in proximity of the business, daytime traffic and market cannibalization with other stores or competitors.
Existing store performance can be analyzed and optimized by better comparing the store’s sales figures in relation to market potential, performance of other stores in a similar market, and segmenting customers based on their location or profile.
Improving the customer experience with geospatial technologies
Location technology is an important factor in creating a great customer experience. Being able to provide the right information quickly is most important for ensuring customer satisfaction, especially when they need personal and direct engagement from their telecom operator.
Coverage and store locator
Store locators and coverage maps are an important part of telecom providers’ customer experience. Customers usually start by looking on the carrier website at coverage quality or availability of the service in their geographic area before either purchasing online or searching for the nearest store.
Both online information services are powered by location technology, whether it is for geocoding the customer location, validating service availability or selecting the nearest store-based on driving distance and specific phone availability.
While most telecom companies’ websites offer these services, some attract customers by providing a better customer experience. For instance, some carriers advocate transparency by providing high accuracy coverage maps or even customer-verified coverage maps with speed information. With the arrival of the 5G technology, many existing customers want to know when 5G will be available near them. Coverage maps can provide this information in a single image and help telecom providers to decide where to invest in the network to satisfy current customers and attract new ones in the future.
A competitive market also implies a high churn rate, which means that to retain customers, telco carriers not only need a good network but also a good customer experience.
To provide the best experience possible, some companies are building a 360 view of their clients that allows them to understand and better serve them, but also identify cross-sell opportunities. This consolidated view of the customer can be built by associating information such as individuals related to them, information from another line of business and additional context to their location and a unique address identifier.
Geospatial data is also beneficial when receiving customer complaints. It can be used to perform a pre-diagnostic by locating potential causes, whether it’s a weak coverage close to the customer location, an ongoing outage in proximity to the customer or a cell site that reaches maximum capacity. Such automated geospatial processes can greatly speed up the resolution time and improve customer satisfaction, while making the agent more efficient.
Geospatial technologies contribute in many ways to the telco industry evolution
Geospatial technologies and data continue to reshape the telecom industry as GIS is no longer only used by GIS departments and RF Engineers but has become an important part of digital modernization.
This new extended role of geospatial technologies and data in telecom is expected to increase rapidly in the coming years as a result of the arrival of 5G technologies that will not only require providing maps and visualization, but also enable the whole organization with geospatial capabilities for better decision-making behind the scenes.