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The evolution of GIS: A journey insight

By Partho Banerjee, Head-Managed Services India, Nokia networks

Geographical Information System is a broad term that can refer to a number of different technologies, processes, and methods. It is attached to many operations and has many applications related to engineering, planning, management, transport/logistics, insurance, telecommunications, and business. It lets us visualize, analyze, question, data to understand patterns, relationships, and trends. Today GIS is a valuable tool, used in many Integrated Applications viz. Crime Science, Land Management, Defence, Security, Water Management, Agriculture & Forestry, Global Warming Emergency Management, National Security, Law Enforcement, Environmental Protection etc. And, it helps in Improved Planning, Management and Decision Making processes.

Many Internet users are familiar with applications that can be beneficial to Telecommunications Network Services. For example, users of MapQuest or similar websites are undoubtedly familiar with the ‘network analysis’ functionality associated with driving directions, which is based upon an algorithm designed to identify the shortest route between two places. This least cost path type of analysis has similar applications in telecommunications network planning and routing, as well as in areas such as first responder planning - Digitizing Network Information. In terms of network management, GIS can serve as a comprehensive database that stores network location and attribute data, thereby enhancing a telecommunication provider’s physical asset management. Through the process of ‘digitizing’ a user can transfer information from paper maps into a GIS; most telecommunications providers have either digitized or are in the process of digitizing their networks in a GIS system.

Given that the network deployment must necessarily begin with mapping out locations, GIS allows for key location-based information to inform the process. Digitizing information about deployed network assets means that such information can immediately become part of a CSP’s network inventory. Once information is digitized, GIS is a platform that can provide a reliable and up-to-date inventory of network asset locations. It offers the opportunity to view and assess a network at different scales and in relation to all or specific assets. Attributed information included in a GIS can include information about network configuration, utilization, life span, maintenance history, and maintenance needs.

Moreover, through the use of intelligent networks and contemporary interfaces that offer ease of access to a GIS database, virtually any user within a company can readily access Network Asset Information. This can allow, for example, maintenance activity to be incorporated into a GIS database in real time from the field team. In terms of optimizing investment returns, and to use fiber optic network rollouts as an example, a GIS can incorporate and support the analysis of information related to RoW (rights of way), the determination of closest facilities, and path analysis, including through modeling various combinations of such information. It further provides opportunities for analyzing and predicting revenues associated with potential infrastructure rollouts and related equipment requirements, such as through examining characteristics of a specific geography or market service area, such as homes or business houses, and characteristics associated with potential growth in demand.

Wireless Networks and GIS

While virtually all of the aforementioned telecommunications network management issues apply to wireless networks, GIS offers particularly enhanced applications when it comes to wireless network planning and analysis, including point-to-point as well as point-to multi-point networks. Data modeling in a GIS allows for three-dimensional analysis that includes line-of-sight analysis; best coverage prediction and determining levels of signal strength for particular locations. Viewshed analysis, for example, can calculate variations in signal strength across an entire 360-degree landscape, which can be essential in the efficient and strategic deployment of wireless broadband networks.

Other key functionalities include identifying and assessing the location of frequently dropped calls or service; assessing the visibility of proposed radio communications towers from an aesthetics standpoint; modeling subsurface terrain; and market analysis. Moreover, collecting data through using GPS technology enables wireless providers to evaluate virtually any given location for sighting telecommunication antennas, including existing structures at that location as well as potential sites for new towers. In short, GIS can be a key part of any telecommunication provider’s overall strategy for deployment and maintenance. Among other things, its utilization can reduce and optimize costs on capital expenses, provide accurate and crucial information in relation to network planning and reconfiguration, and allow for various elements of Quality control.

To summarize the main functions met by GIS in Telecom application are:

• Plan, design and engineer Network deployment and expansion

• Modeling of (Outside Plant) OSP and (InSide Plant) ISP items up to port level

• Placement of Trenches, Cables, Structures and facilities in the OSP

• Facility layouts, equipment placement and port-to-port connectivity

• Inventory management including equipment assignment

• Repository of As-Built and survey data

• Provide network data to OSS/BSS systems

• Answer service activation/provisioning queries

• Cable fault localization

• Several Sales, Marketing and Service fulfillment related functions

• Mapping Existing Infrastructure

• Mapping Block-Level Population Densities for Demand Management

• GIS in Fiber-Optic Network Design

• GIS based customer tracking, APPs, customer advance services, location based advertisement

In the age of entrepreneurship boom being witnessed in India, many businesses build the foundation of their respective business models on the accuracy of GIS. OLA, Uber & Zomato, Dineout are examples of fleet aggregators and restaurant search engines with very strong roots in GIS. Every field is making use of this – a wide spectrum literally - beauty services, healthcare on end of the spectrum to routine fixes like ‘an electrician on call’ or online ordering of your grocery. However, one area, which needs improvement is the use of Big Data to make targeted predictions based on the huge number of data points generated and makes targeted campaigns towards the smart phone savvy end consumer. This would require reforms in prevalent laws (DND etc) as well as improve the accuracy of such predictions to further the cause of the consumer boom being witnessed in the second decade of the 21stCentury. 

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