CableLabs will be hosting a GIS/Location Intelligence workshop Aug. 17-18, in conjunction with its summer conference in Keystone, Colo., set for Aug. 15-18.

The workshop will focus on how service providers are using geographical information systems (GIS) today; highlights of the latest GIS-related business opportunities; and proposed next steps for cable operators in terms of GIS.

"The GIS landscape is changing dramatically, resulting in both new competitive threats and opportunities for the cable industry," according to the CableLabs GIS promotion.

GIS has been used by cable operators for a decade or more (for more, click here), but it’s taken a while for the IT folks to work out all the kinks and for other departments to recognize the value in the GIS data.

James Pierce, senior director/HFC engineering and GIS at Charter Communications, explained that computer-aided-design (CAD) mapping tools might display a system’s subscriber footprint or plant equipment but that CAD maps are just flat files with no intelligence.

"Intelligence – that is what GIS represents," said Pierce.

According to Pierce, the GIS applications that really have caught top executives’ eyes are those that help serviceability. The “eye-catching” part has to do with money, of course. GIS helps reduce expenses and increase revenues in relation to serviceability.

Rather than having to schedule a truck roll and do a physical site survey to determine if homes or businesses are within an operator’s footprint, the addresses and other serviceability parameters can be input in the GIS relational database to determine footprint. Besides saving money on site surveys, the marketing department can identify new subscriber prospects and contact them more quickly.

At Cox Communications, the MSO uses GE Smallworld for its geospatial solutions, which Cox Business has found useful to identify business-customer prospects, said Stephen Baker, manager of network inventory/GNIS with Cox. He added Cox Business has built an application to utilize the data in the GIS to correlate prospect data with the nearest taps.

Frontier GeoTek is a Denver-based GIS company that assists some of the top MSOs. President Corey Walker said other operational divisions now tapping into GIS include competitive-intelligence departments, customer service and government affairs, among others.
 
Walker said his company recently assisted three Tier 1 MSOs in responding to broadband-stimulus applications filed by other providers. The big MSOs had to clarify their footprints in areas where other providers were proposing buildouts. GIS also helps operators pay their taxes to various municipalities based on accurate plant and subscriber data. "Government affairs is a big deal," Walker said. "Different agencies have different requirements; sometimes you pay by poles, sometimes by customers."

Plant Monitoring

GIS also is being employed to help with plant monitoring and troubleshooting, with Cox being an early adopter.

GE Smallworld is an object-oriented database that natively handles complex network topology, said Baker. The MSO has a fully connected topology from beginning of video down to set-top boxes to digital and circuit-switched telephony equipment.

"It gives us the ability to say that a cable modem is offline and to know where it is…and being able to understand if there’s a fault in the outside plant," said Baker.

He said Cox’s next generation GIS connects with network monitoring and customer premise equipment (CPE) monitoring to more quickly determine the location of an outage: "If we can find out about a problem before the customer, we’ve got a call savings on customer service and truck rolls."

Asked if plant monitoring with GIS impinged on the work done by plant monitoring products, Charter’s Pierce said, "It’s not taking away from vendors; it’s using information they provide to find where in the network (problems are) occurring." He said combining information from monitoring systems with the GIS system helps pinpoint problems on a map and also provides a visual way to see if there are any patterns.

"It’s more of a complement than taking away," he said.

-Linda Hardesty

The Daily

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