Telecommunications Technology Revolution

Optimizing the network investment

Today’s telecommunications networks involve a growing number of choices of technologies for use in the outside plant. To accommodate varying technologies, engineers need new tools for planning and design. Fiber optics and wireless technology have revolutionized the local telecommunications network. Over the last two decades, fiber has transitioned from backbone and long-haul transmission lines to the local loop and become critical to delivering broadband. Wireless continues to evolve into a replacement for traditional landline service, and with the explosion of smartphones, wireless itself is becoming a medium for broadband data delivery.

Prior to the introduction of these technologies, telecommunications were predominantly landline voice services and delivered over copper wires. When copper cables approached call carrying capacity, relief was providing by installing new or larger copper cable.

Unlike the past, today, when networks become congested, engineers have a myriad of technology choices ranging from upgrading wireless or fiber transmission equipment to migrating to a completely new transmission technology. It is far more complicated, due to the large array of data that must be considered, to select the most appropriate technology and then design a network. To optimize capital investment, the telecommunications professional must be able to understand market potential, identify competitive threats, and evaluate the network interconnection technology available at customer locations.

A geographic information system (GIS) can help optimize the network investment. Engineers use GIS to integrate all critical factors into an effective decision-making process. The spatial capabilities of GIS provide a platform to display and analyze all necessary data. Mapping and visualization allow the integration of market and network information onto a single, simple-to-use platform. Modeling within a GIS allows multiple scenarios to be run. By varying the assumptions, users can compare capital cost and revenue for each scenario to determine the network deployment that maximizes return on investment.

As the telecommunications technology revolution continues to unfold, the market is becoming more competitive. Technology options, if properly deployed, can provide a competitive edge. However, seizing the advantage that technology offers can only be realized if companies have the tools to optimize the network investment.

How is your organization optimizing its network investment?

Randy Frantz

About Randy Frantz

Randy Frantz is the global telecommunications solutions manager for Esri. He has over 32 years of experience in the telecommunication industry and has served as VP for Cox Communications' new product operations in Arizona and director of network design and deputy trade representative for Bell Atlantic International in Asia.
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  1. Randy Anderson says:

    One of the hottest topics for our clients centers around estimating the cost to build to new customers. Indeed, this is not a new topic, any network engineer worth his pay grade can estimate a cost to build. However, our clients need this information in seconds, not days. We have been able to leverage the GIS to help our clients accomplish this. There is no other way such analysis could be accomplished so quickly.

  2. Danny Petrecca says:

    The power that enterprise GIS can offer a telecom is vast. But, most organizations and technologies are only just scratching the surface. Sure, there are many choices of technology when it comes down to network inventory and basic mapping. But, to gain a competitive edge telecoms must answer advanced analytical questions quickly and easily.

    Think about the need for a telecom to pinpoint exactly what part of their network is the weakest and help them engineer a design to strengthen it. This requires detailed data about not only the network, but customers, usage, outages, landbase, demographics, etc. Getting this data requires cooperation between many different parts of a telecom as well as outside entities. They will also need a GIS technology that can take all of this data and work with it in its many different forms. But, what if the design requires the use of as much existing infrastructure as possible. How do you upgrade the network while using existing poles or conduit while ensuring the poles will remain structurally sound and new cables will fit in existing conduits? The advanced analytical power of GIS can help here.

    The advantage of GIS does not stop at network inventory and design. Once the build is done, GIS helps share information to make sure everyone is aware of the current state of the network so they can start to realize the ROI. Whether it is via the web or on a mobile device, GIS has an advantage here.

    Finally, as a telecom GIS technology provider, I have been involved in GIS implementations of many different sizes and levels of complexity over the past two decades. I have come to realize that the main factor that determines whether an implementation succeeds or fails is change management. Success rarely hinges solely on technology. In the telecom technology revolution Randy mentions above, success will depend more on telecoms’ willingness to change the legacy way they do things than the tools they use to do them.

  3. Tom Counts says:

    In the world of telecommunications, anyone that can stay ahead of the curve almost has to be considered clairvoyant based on the speed of change in this vibrant and competitive market. With the explosion of fiber investment, equipment re(evolution), and bandwidth demand, it currently appears that Fiber to the Prem (FttX) is winning the race today. Wireless still plays a very major factor but the largest single investment in telecommunications appears to be fiber-related. So, given that mindset, let’s look at what we’re doing to expedite, automate, and improve the process of touching the world with fiber.
    First, we see a bifurcated approach to design-build. About half of the companies we deal with are doing it in-house whereas the other half are outsourcing to engineering firms. Common to the requirements of both are the fundamental needs of understanding the world in which we live in and how to minimize the effect of build-out while maximizing the reach of the new or repurposed fiber plant.

    While CAD and GIS have been the go-to solution for this market, they have both continued to grow in complexity and expense to the point of reaching diminishing returns. However, given the foundation of Internet capacity, speed, and reach that is fundamental even to the writing of this commentary, we are now at an inflection point of capability and cost. We are seeing the cost of GIS actually going down with capability and reach of GIS going way, way up.

    Web-based solutions that allow for self-service qualification, early commitments, and on-line support have given way to web-based design programs and (secure) cloud-storage of facility networks. In conjunction to cloud storage of network data, there is also nearly unlimited access to enabling data that used to cost a small fortune to purchase and maintain. That data being landbase data, soil data, terrain data, temporal traffic pattern data, bathymetric data, weather data, even crowd-sourced data. To simply maintain that data for a single municipality used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    Today, it’s just there and it’s practically free. We are commonly seeing clients combine market analysis, precise geo-coded locations, network designs, build-outs and maintenance of the network all managed from a common GIS solution. Further to that, with GIS enabled smartphones, tablets, and high-accuracy GPS devices, the ability to execute work orders, conduct inspections, perform construction and repair no longer takes complicated (and expensive) devices in the field. A $5000 ruggedized device is now being replaced by near-disposable smartphones and tablets.

    GIS that used to be complicated and expensive, even unobtainium for many, is now prevalent, affordable, and simple to use. But that’s only a third of the story. With near unlimited data-sources for timely and informed decision making available to the GIS, the enterprise (being desktop, smartphone, tablet, cloud) has no excuse for not having the best tools in the market to design and maintain the best networks in the world.

  4. Sharon Vollman says:

    As editor of OSP Magazine, I watch how the convergence of the wireline and wireless networks impacts those professionals who work to evolve it. This convergence has created a complex and inter-related infrastructure ecosystem that includes: fiber, copper, wireless macro cells, base stations, small cells, femtocells, DAS, picocells and even home networking equipment. All of this OSP gear is intertwined and must ‘communicate’ with end-users’ devices as well service providers’ network-related departments. As a result, network evolution professionals struggle with information overload.

    GIS can be an ‘ambassador’ for the outside plant. It can help dissolve functional silos within a service providers’ organization so information overload becomes less divisive. It can facilitate peaceful problem-solving across the many organizations and professionals who touch the network.

    When used to its fullest extent, GIS can become the ‘mediator’ among service providers’ organizations while it also helps the end-user get the reliable network they deserve. And when it comes down to it, making sense of information overload goes a long way to help providers optimize their network.