Geographical information systems (GISs) have entered the mainstream, popping up everywhere from car navigation systems to cell phones. In the cable industry, GIS also is growing in popularity – as a tool for improved customer service and network reliability.

"Maps can simplify," said Robert F. Cruickshank III, vice president, operations and business support strategies, ARRIS. "You don’t have to see every network interconnection. With mapping, you can bring into the foreground only those parts of the infrastructure where potential problems exist."

Cruickshank, who delivered a paper on the topic at Cable-Tec Expo, sees the value in representing data visually. "Operations people do not have to refer to databases when making decisions. With the detail provided by mapping, they can take in information graphically and make decisions more easily and efficiently." MSO activity GIS-based tools improve customer care through nearly instant response on serviceability and by reducing or eliminating unnecessary truck rolls, said James Pierce, senior director HFC Engineering & GIS at Charter Communications.

On June 2, Charter launched a serviceability tool based on its underlying spatial data warehouse. The tool provides instant serviceability responses (such as "roll installation truck" or "address not serviceable") in response to simply typing in a proposed customer address. Geocoding technology enables the tool to spatially locate the address and to determine the closest current or former customer within 300 feet of that address, along with the services available to the customer.

Cox Communications is developing a trending and correlation engine that uses telemetry data from customer premises equipment (CPE) devices to proactively determine potential failure points in the network, said Stephen Baker, Cox manager of geospatial network inventory systems. GIS will provide information to correlate CPE to outside plant and network topology that feeds it, for more effective planning, he said.

Time Warner Cable is running a GIS beta test over its workforce management system in Charlotte, NC, and Columbia, SC, said Carolina Regional Vice President of Engineering Carl Newberry. Business development The benefits of mapping in cable are not limited to network reliability, however. In March, Pitney Bowes MapInfo announced that Time Warner Cable was using its solutions in the MSO’s Los Angeles service area for business development. Multi-layer mapping analysis enables sales teams in the area to visually understand the relationship among data, geography and end-result performance.

"Viewing data in spreadsheets did not provide the information that we needed," stated Ron Di Grandi, Time Warner Cable director of business development, in a press release at the time.

Charter is developing a serviceability tool for its business services division similar to what it has launched for its residential services. Pierce said that it would have the capability of locating the nearest fiber network access point to the given address.

Business services are a natural application. As noted in an article two years ago on Comcast Seattle, CT‘s 2006 System of the Year, what began as a residential GIS deployment that netted some 10,000 new subscribers migrated into geo-coding the proximity of plant to commercial addresses. Consensus, ROI At the forefront of the industry’s adoption of this technology, Comcast Seattle Director of Engineering Sean Bristol argued in an article in CT last September that a standard data model and service-oriented architecture (SOA) could take GIS to the next level.

As for architecture, there appears to be consensus. "(GIS platforms) pretty much all follow the SOA hierarchy," said Charter’s Pierce.

Standardization is also advancing. According to a Comcast spokesperson: "We are in the process of finalizing our common/standard physical plant into a geospatial data model and defining the processes for capturing and loading our HFC assets into this standard repository."

Implementations will vary. "The network infrastructure depends upon the GIS application chosen," said Cox’s Baker. Internal Cox users access GE Energy Smallworld and Physical Network Inventory applications via a centrally managed Citrix farm that accesses a centralized failover database.

As GIS technology takes hold in cable, the return on investment is directly tied to more trouble-free network performance. "Provide the necessary mobile tools and turn the field services team into the walkout team of tomorrow," said Baker.

– Alex Zavistovich

Read more news and analysis on Communications Technology‘s Web site at http://www.cable360.net/ct/news/.

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