Skip to main content

How to leverage GIS in telecommunications

The telecommunications industry is a very competitive landscape. If you don't like your "service", well, just switch. It's that simple for most of us. With the high cost of deploying network infrastructure to rural and urban Canadians, losing customers to the competition is not an option. And to think, this is just one of the many pressures that operators must manage in order to "stay ahead of the game" in the telecom market. That said, how can a telecom operator, big or small, continue to deliver high quality communications services to the masses while managing the everyday pressures of the business? Is there a silver bullet? Read more to see what that answer is and how GIS might be part of that solution.

As a telecom operator, you feel it. That pressure. It's constant. Always there.

  • The hand of competition
  • The demands of customers
  • The challenges of the network
  • The pursuit of revenue

Yes, you feel it, day in and day out. All while trying to operate a successful telecom business. A very challenging line of work—though rewarding. Delivering critical infrastructure to thousands of people is nothing to wince at. The information lifeline of a modern society is communications, which is a noble enterprise indeed. And so, despite the pressures, you keep on moving forward, doing what it takes to deliver the best products and services you can.

However, every now and again, you drift back to the thought of those pressures. You can't help it. And so, you ask the question, "How do we continue to be successful with these pressures nipping at our heels?" It's a fair ask. I would be asking it too. It’s a difficult question to address in its entirety, but the good news is there is an answer: Modernization.

How is this the answer?  There are many individual components that make up the whole of this answer. In this article, I explain how these individual components sum to the answer of modernization. Modernization, to me, means doing things better and differently with the help of technology. It's that simple. Understanding this, we can explore how technology can be used to support activities across our telecom enterprise while opening opportunities to do things better. And if we can do things better, business organically improves. So, modernizing your telecom business will help give you that "edge" you need to stay ahead. It’s through the adoption of such technologies that we modernize. 

Ok, but what type of technology do I explore that will help me modernize my OSS and BSS landscape?

Ah! I am glad you asked!

Enter Geographic Information Systems (GIS): Location intelligence and spatial awareness technology used to support the modernization of industries around the world, telecoms included. Why is GIS a technology that helps modernize telecoms? Well, if we think about it, the two most important assets for any telecom operator are the network and its customers, both of which have geographic underpinnings. Your network lives somewhere. Your customers live somewhere. Everything you do happens somewhere in and around these two major assets. Why not use location technology to help modernize your business, unlocking new revenues and operational savings? And that's where GIS shines, acting as a cog in the OSS and BSS wheel. We're not replacing traditional systems. We're simply modernizing the technology toolkit with a system that can exploit location in your favour. Still not sold? Ok. That's fair, but stick with me. Let me see if I can provide some examples of GIS across the telecom enterprise that will at least give you a moment to pause. 

GIS for telecom sales and marketing

Sales and marketing. This is where the revenue journey begins! You want new customers, and you want to keep existing ones. You are doing a fairly good job of it today, but who doesn't want to improve in this area of business? Consider how location technology can help drive these directives in a positive direction. Let's look at two applications of GIS in this business unit.

Market analysis

Combine your customer data with other demographic insights to help identify who your ideal customers are and where they live. Use GIS to generate a market segmentation report to identify your target markets across your serving territory. Deliver targeted campaigns to those customers—both new and existing—to promote and upsell services. Record the success of those campaigns to see the uptick in services and where they occurred. Use these results to build a better campaign. Rinse and repeat! Applying spatial analytics to your traditional market campaigns can help with savings in terms of targeted efforts and help generate more revenue with qualified leads. A win, win, no?

An ArcGIS Dashboard illustrating wireless national subscriber behavior metrics such as total data uploaded/downloaded, average call quality, average failed connections, average speed, and average latency.

Subscriber behavior mapping

We need to understand who our customers are and where they live within the geographic footprint of our network. How are they using our network? See these metrics on a map. How are they not using our network? You can see these metrics on a map. Can we visualize a pattern of disconnects? Yes, with a map. What is the community saying about our network and services? Again, you can see this on a map. Can we use these patterns to improve customer experience and reduce churn? Absolutely! Returning to our previous observation, your customers live somewhere, behave a certain way, and are using your network in some fashion. Leverage GIS and location analytics to pull insights from these patterns to better understand this picture and take action to improve the customer experience. Keeping customers means maintaining revenue. 

Ok, now, let's jump into the network. The bread and butter of your business.

GIS for telecom planning and engineering

You are building a network for your customers and managing services on top of this network. You might be planning a greenfield, FTTH build. You might be undertaking a brownfield, over-build. You might be replacing equipment at a wireless site. Maybe you are thinking about upgrading your network to 5G. Most definitely you are doing some of these things. What is the common ground here? All these activities happen somewhere in geographic space. And so, it's important to have modern, geospatial tools at the ready to help document and manage these efforts from planning to as-built. Let's look at some examples.

Site suitability analysis

This type of analysis is well suited to the wireless world. You can use GIS to help identify wireless site candidates using a variety of geographic factors such as:

  • Areas of predicted population growth
  • Areas of high bandwidth consumption
  • Proximity to fiber backhaul
  • Line of sight to other towers
  • Elevation impediments
  • Height of anthropogenic infrastructure

Bring these parameters together, inside of a GIS environment to help identify the locations of candidate sites. Use this information to plan where to build next to maximize the return on your investment.

A design of a fiber to the premise network in ArcGIS Pro.

Network engineering

A modern GIS to support planning, design, and management of a communications network is paramount. The network you manage is complex. Wireline, wireless. Indoor, outdoor. Aerial, underground. A modern GIS can help design and document all these things, and do them well, inside of a single, cohesive ecosystem that is 2D and 3D capable. Without a modern GIS solution, network engineering activities become siloed. Silos introduce inefficiencies and errors. Errors lead to poor decision making. And that does not give you the "edge" you need in such a competitive landscape.

Alright, so you built a great network. You have customers using this network. If you are reading this, heck, I am probably using your network! So, perfect! Thank you! But, as we know, it doesn't just stop here.

GIS for telecom network operations and maintenance

The network is alive and running, 24/7. You need to look after it and care for it when it needs attention. This means understanding where equipment and services are running and how to maintain and troubleshoot them should the need arise. Again, geography is the underpinning fabric here. Let's look at some examples of how GIS can play a role to support this aspect of the business.

NOC monitoring

Active devices are operating somewhere in your network. Network alarms are happening somewhere on the network. Work orders and trouble tickets are being issued to a geographic location. All these elements can be amalgamated into a GIS for better visibility of how the network is operating, creating a single, common operating picture available to anyone who wants to see it, as seen below. Use this data inside of a GIS to identify issues, communicate resolution, and use these metrics to predict future concerns; be one step ahead of the problem or help prevent the issue from happening in the first place using a modern location intelligence and spatial analytics platform.

An ArcGIS Dashboard illustrating operational metrics of a wireless network such as alarms, work orders, reports, sector performance, and devices connected.

Damage assessment

Outages are inevitable. We know this. What is important though is how we identify an outage, communicate this outage, and respond to this outage. All of this must be done quickly in order to minimize the impact to service and to manage the perception of our business to our customers. A modern GIS solution can help. Using spatial aggregation tools, it is possible to map customer complaints and device issues to see patterns that can, in turn, highlight network issues. Is the problem a one off? Is it localized? Is it much larger than we thought? What is the issue and where!? Spatial technology and location intelligence can bring together relevant data that help identify network impacts and relay this information to your customers. Don't underestimate the visibility and perception of your brand. The power of a map can help!

GIS for telecom customer service

Last, but not least, is the customer service realm. The definition of customer service might be a little bit different, depending on your view, but let's boil it down to one of the most important elements of a telecom business, service qualification.

We want to equip our customers and potential customers with the tools and information they need to make decisions about service. Again, the concept of "where" lies quietly underneath this mission. A modern GIS plugs in naturally to support this cause. Let's take a quick look.

Service qualification

"Can I get service?" Ah, the age-old question for Internet connectivity. Well, that answer depends on your location. So, when a customer asks about service, how do they know what they can get?  As an operator, you need to combine accurate addressing with accurate network information, together, so that customers can instantly understand what services are available. This requires a modern GIS that can integrate addressing and network details to highlight the services available today, tomorrow, and beyond. Can I get service now? If yes, what type of service? If not, when? If you can't answer these on the spot, well...odds are you lost the customer. Don't let that happen!

A satellite image showing a pop-up box on a house highlighted the types of services available at the house location.

Alright. We did it. We made it through a few examples of how you can use GIS to support the many activities that happen across your telco enterprise. The list of examples is deep. Too deep to cover them all with detail. And so, I want to leave you with some food for thought. Look at this ArcGIS StoryMap called ArcGIS for Telecommunications: An Executive Presentation. It highlights many of the telecom related activities we talked about here, including some that I couldn't fit in. This StoryMap also has some live examples that you can play with. So, go ahead, play! Hopefully it gets those creative juices flowing. And remember, you, as a communications provider, are at the bleeding edge of technology. You understand modernization better than most. Embrace it. Allow technology to modernize your business. Let GIS be a part of your enterprise OSS and BSS toolkit. You might be surprised at what you discover with the power of location!

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

About the Author

Sergio Palladini is the Industry Manager for Telecommunications at Esri Canada. He is focused on illustrating the importance of geospatial technology as it applies to the telecommunications industry. Sergio has significant experience in helping telecommunication operators around the world see the value of location intelligence and spatial analytics for enhanced decision support across their enterprise. He holds an undergraduate degree from Queen's University and a master's degree in Geographic Information Systems from the University of Calgary.

Profile Photo of Sergio Palladini