Enabling network deployment at velocity: GIS more than network mapping

The year was 1994 and at the time I had visions of saving the planet. I was determined to enter into an environmental profession and my Alma Mater had only one program that resonated, Environment Science and GIS. As I progressed through the program I learned to not only understand the meaning of GIS but also began to appreciate the power of the technology. After graduating, I worked with an environment engineering firm evaluating the efficacy of GIS technology for business providing utility services. It was the utility companies that were migrating networks consisting of water, gas and electric from CAD based solutions to GIS based solutions. 

Then, several years ago, at an Esri User Conference I learned how much more complex managing fiber networks can be than utility networks.

What sets apart the telecommunications networks from your conventional utility networks is that they are continually evolving. There has been a progression of terrestrial network types from copper, coax to fiber over the past several decades which has allowed for increased bandwidth sizes but has in turn offered even more complexity in the creation and management of these networks. Wireless technology has evolved, as well, with no signs of stopping. Many of the legacy network types are still being used today and in some cases are interacting with one another. This environment is requiring GIS solutions for telecommunications to continue to evolve while still allowing customers to utilize our technologies for managing all their network assets whether new or legacy.

For telecommunications the idea of GIS is certainly not a new concept. Many large and small companies have invested in technology solutions based on the same premise utility companies justified to migrate to GIS-based applications, that is, to provide a centralized repository for their asset information to make better decisions. While on the surface it seems the challenges of understanding deployed assets is the same between utility networks and fiber networks regarding terms of understanding where facilities are located, but once you peel the onion a bit, you will discover that a fiber cable can have 864 (or more) individual strands, each potentially carrying light in both directions that can be split into two signals and then merged back into one. Fiber networks are exponentially more complex than other utility networks. The power of GIS in complex fiber networks is that it not only stores the location and connection information but can also be efficiently modified, managed and shared across the enterprise.

There are two challenges that GIS in telecom solves for the fiber network:

1. How to develop applications to accommodate the future needs of telecom customers with respect to the networks they intend to deploy while also maintaining the management of the legacy networks.

2. How to centralize the data location of their assets to support managing the lifecycle of their network from plan to manage and use that data across the enterprise.

These challenges and solutions have historically been separate business processes. The changing technology and deployment types are causing service providers to reconsider insight into the network progression.

They now want to couple planning with engineering, engineering with construction, and construction with management. Knowing the progression of network element(s) through this lifecycle is giving them the ability to understand what has been placed, connected, provisioned and ultimately ready for service. By providing them with a network management system, primarily based on GIS, they can leverage this information to be more competitive and ultimately to provide service to their customers, stakeholders and community at a much faster pace. We have coined the idea of velocity as it relates to network expansion. Today in terms of quickly delivering quality networks at an affordable price, providers are now faced with producing at scale which ultimately translates to volume over time or velocity.

The telecommunications industry has historically been required to embrace new technologies as their networks have evolved. This reality coupled with understanding the value of embracing GIS across its organization as a method for delivering at velocity is allowing the progressive service providers to remain both competitive and relevant as they continue to provide service to their customers now and into the future. While I may not be saving the planet as I once aspired to do, GIS is allowing me and those in the telecommunications industry to deliver connectivity to those who need it most.

Michael Measels, VP of Product Management, is an experienced product leader who specializes in driving vision and roadmap for 3-GIS. He most enjoys the consultative nature of product management where he interacts with customers to resolve complex business problems. Having supported numerous large-scale FTTx build-outs, Michael brings a hands-on understanding of the information needed by customers to manage their network assets in order to achieve their digital transformation initiatives. With regard to product direction, he notes, “build what what they need now, not what we want later.”

Michael holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and GIS from Samford University. As the father of two small children, he is amazed by the amount of information they have accessible today and wonders if finding the answers immediately avoids wasted time or misses the value of investigation and testing.

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