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How To Leverage GIS for Telecommunication Capital Planning

Picture are running a telecom business. You oversee important decisions about the future of your network. There are thousands, if not, millions of dollars hanging on the threads of the decisions you make. And so, with every capital spending exercise that you and your team tackle, the task of making the best decisions about the future of your business looms large. The direction and choice you take comes down to the research and planning you do by analyzing data from your operational and business support systems (OSS and BSS), side by side, to help make the most comprehensive decision that you can. But how can we bring OSS and BSS data together to help with this decision-making process?

Three words: Geographic. Information. Systems. That's right, GIS. It is the ultimate table join between the realms of OSS and BSS! Spatial analysis, the common thread between telecom customers and the network, can strengthen project scope and analysis decisions related to the future of an operator's capital investments!

Upgrades to existing network, building new network, standing up modern technologies, replacing old technologies, attracting new customers, and keeping existing ones all require careful planning because each project endeavour can be very, VERY, expensive. And so, operators will embark on a project journey starting with the analysis and planning part of the wheel. This will help them pull together as much insight as they can to make the best decisions possible that accomplish the goal of the projects, minimizing the cost, and maximizing the return. That is straight forward. The unfortunate part is that, in many cases, telecom operators are missing a component of that wheel. I am referring to the component called geography.

A wheel diagram of generic activities that happen inside of a telecom enterprise. The wheel is divided into sections with the center of the wheel representing the physical network inventory for the telecom operator. All sections of the wheel are lightly greyed out except for the section entitled Project Scope and Analysis.

Let us think about it from the outside looking in. The two most important assets to a telecommunication operator are its network and its customers. A telecommunication network lives somewhere in geographic space. Telecommunication customers live somewhere in geographic space. So, taking into consideration the concept of geography when trying to make strategic decisions about the two most important assets related to a telecom business--network and customers--seems like a no-brainer! And yet the importance of location often becomes lost in the data science team shuffle. Network, customers, and the surrounding human and physical environments will have an impact on where you deploy your network, how you deploy your network, and the customer take rate on that network.

And so the importance of planning is clear. Initial research and analysis are needed to help make important decisions with a high degree of confidence. Especially when there is much investment on the line. Inside an operator's world, the network and their customers live somewhere in geographic space, so execution of planning and analysis activities with the parameter of geography in mind makes perfect sense. That said, let us look at the ways in which spatial analysis with a GIS can help telecom operators with their capital investments!

Subscriber Behaviour Mapping

Ok, so, if I am a telecom operator, part of my mission is to make my existing communication service better while expanding my footprint to reach a larger customer base. To strive towards this mission, how about we start by looking at the current situation? Let’s ask the questions, how are my customers using the network today? Or inversely, how are my customers NOT using my network today? Something tells me geography can help answer these questions. In the context of a wireline or wireless network, why not map out subscriber behaviour in terms of the amount data that is transferred against relevant points in the network to generate a view of how the network is being used? The "picture" will pop right away! A map is a fantastic way to visually see the cold spots and hotspots of the network around any variety of parameters of interest.

A woman standing in the street holding her phone, face up, in the palm of her hand. Information from her phone is appearing in front of her in a holographic fashion as she looks to touch and navigate the information being displayed.

So how can a subscriber behaviour map help us? Well, this insight can support the decision-making process around network upgrades, network expansion, and operational streamlining efforts. Hotspots on the map highlight areas that will need more capacity. That is exactly where I would want to focus network upgrades. Cold spots on the map tell me I could maintain the network with less. Maybe I can repurpose equipment in this case. Blank spots, well . . .I have no network there. Should we build out the footprint to fill these gaps? Excel files and pie charts, as good as they are, don't give me the context of where. And that is important, because all these projects will require heavy investment to address the needs of the customer base. Choosing the optimal location(s) is paramount. Can GIS help with this analysis? Ab-so-lute-ly. And the results of this analysis, more specifically, the action one takes following this analysis, will help drive a better customer experience, improve customer sentiment, and reduce customer churn. And we all know that keeping customers means retaining revenue.

Market Analysis

Ok, so we talked about using GIS to analyze the current state of customers and how they use the network. The goal is to leverage that analysis to make decisions about the existing network footprint. What about the other side of the coin? What about growing the customer base whether that be upselling services to existing customers or onboarding net-new customers? This is where location intelligence can help drive decision support around marketing initiatives aimed at new customers and new (upsell) services. How can this be done? Well, as I pointed out earlier, an operator's customers live somewhere in geographic space. Why don't we do some analysis to identify the type of customers an operator has compared to the services and spending that these customers exhibit. We can, in turn, use this information to build ideal customer profiles and leverage demographic information to identify target markets for selling. Layer in the spatial footprint of the network and now one can build a highly effective marketing campaign based on a map that highlights target areas for ideal customers and network capacity. That's right. A map!

A census map of the Tampa Bay region in Florida, USA. The census polygons are coloured differently in accordance to their 2021 USA Tapestry Segmentation profiles.

What's even cooler is that we are using spatial analysis to help drive decisions around an activity that is related to the sales and marketing side of a telecom enterprise by combining network AND customer information, together, into a single, common operating picture...a map. How else would one make decisions on the marketing of products and services to the population? Random, blanket approaches are not very cost effective, and I bet you the take rate of network services is even less so. By leveraging the location intelligence capabilities of an enterprise GIS, operators can sculpt a market strategy that will allow them to laser focus their efforts on delivering the right services, at the right place, and at the right time!

Site Suitability Analysis

This last example is the culmination of the previous two and really illustrates the point that there is serious planning and analysis that needs to happen before projects are executed on. So, we looked at subscriber behaviour in terms of how existing customers are currently using the network. We looked at a market analysis activity to identify potential upsell and target markets for new customers. Now let's look at how we can use the analysis from the previous two examples to help drive network decisions.

A picture of a wireless tower that escapes the city skyline upward. A node-edge-node network is superimposed over the picture.

For this section, let us stick with the wireless part of the business. Knowing the status of the existing network and the prospecting of new customers, where are the ideal locations to put up new wireless infrastructure? There is that question again...where? Of course, there are other, traditional factors that need to be taken into consideration when selecting a new site, but supplementing these factors with spatial parameters is a critical part to the decision-making process. Questions like:

  • Where do we put a new wireless site to add additional coverage for new customers?
  • Where do we put a new wireless site to add capacity to existing coverage?
  • Where do we put a new wireless site to support current and future population growth?
  • Where do we put a new wireless site that minimizes cost of reach to backhaul networks?
  • Where do we put a new wireless site with optimal line of sight for RF propagation?

I could go on, but I won't. As you can see, the question of where is a significant part of the planning and analysis process. This type of analysis will bolster decision making, allowing operators to make network investments with a stronger degree of confidence and, in turn, a stronger case for ROI.

The famous words of Richard Saul Wurman, creator of TED and a close friend of Jack Dangermond, “Understanding preceeds action,” resonates well with telecommunication operators because the complexity and cost associated with making strategic decisions about the network is significant. And so, understanding is critical to making the best decisions that drive the greatest returns. Of course, telecom operators understand this and are actively participating in these activities today, but why not amplify these efforts by including spatial data and location intelligence around the very same activities? This will help drive insight and enhance the decision-making process.

How to get there? Well, it starts with telecom operators adopting a geospatial strategy that allows for the inclusion of spatial data from their OSS and BSS platforms. Telecom operators have mountains of great data about their network and their customers. By implementing a geospatial strategy, telecom operators can include GIS as part of their OSS and BSS toolkits allowing them to unlock the power of geography and take analysis and planning to the next level. Want to dive into the above activities in a little more detail? Check out this ArcGIS StoryMap. It highlights the activities, challenges, and spatial solutions an operator can lean on to support their scoping and analysis workflows. It is more than just a read. You can play with several of the solutions too! Don’t be shy. Until next time...

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