There is no doubt that wireless is the future growth area for communications, and most of it will be IP traffic. Global IP traffic is soaring, with Cisco predicting that traffic will increase threefold over the next five years. Due to the rapid growth of mobile devices, which include smartphones and the Internet of Things (IoT), two-thirds of this traffic will be wireless by 2020.
To meet this growing bandwidth demand, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is auctioning spectrum, and service providers are building new cell sites to implement 4G and, soon, 5G technology. These technologies provide higher bandwidth than older technologies, but throughput is distance sensitive. The closer to the antenna site, the higher the bandwidth. Smaller cells use less power, reducing interference from other sites and allowing the carriers to reuse spectrum in congested areas. Build more cell sites, and the bandwidth problem is solved! Sort of.
With this rapid growth comes a certain irony. The more we embrace wireless, the more wired we become. It is really a profound statement, and its meaning is far reaching. Connecting a smart device to the antenna at a cell site solves only part of the problem. You need to provide backhaul capacity to connect with the network. More spectrum and antennas will not solve the problem if you don't have the corresponding backhaul network. As we embrace a more disconnected world through wireless devices, we become more dependent on the connected wired technology—in many cases, fiber. Unfortunately, many existing and new cell sites do not have fiber connectivity. Prior to 4G, copper was a major transport medium for backhaul. When traffic was predominantly voice, copper was adequate to satisfy demand. With the shift to IP traffic and the explosion of video and data, fiber backhaul is a natural replacement for copper.
The challenge for many wireless service providers is daunting. With the largest carriers providing countrywide coverage, they need fiber access to tens of thousands of sites, and they need it fast. Many are issuing RFPs to local service providers for the fiber backhaul connections. Responding to RFPs with cost estimates for hundreds or thousands of sites can be expensive and time-consuming unless they harness The Science of Where.
On the surface, the problem is a simple geographic question: How do you connect two locations, a mobile site and a network access point? We can apply The Science of Where to plan a fiber route. Think of a similar problem you might face in your daily life: determining a route from your house to a new restaurant. You probably have an app on your phone that can show you a route—you input the two addresses, and, with an understanding of the road network connecting the two locations, you are provided with a recommendation. Similarly, GIS technology, which also leverages The Science of Where, can propose a fiber backhaul route from the cell site to the network. As you have most likely learned through experience when solving the driving problem, it can be much more complex than initially thought. Do you want to go the fastest or shortest route? Should you take the highway or back roads? What if there is traffic congestion? The same applies to backhaul. Are you planning a single point-to-point route or leveraging an existing fiber cable to connect multiple sites?
Traditionally the first step in the backhaul analysis required an expensive and time-consuming field trip to select a suitable route. This manual process is cost prohibitive when evaluating more than a couple of sites, especially since you aren't guaranteed that you will win the bid. Analyzing routes by using maps and aerial imagery will save time and money. Once again, this will work for a few routes, but for more complex analysis, automating processes with repeatable models will reduce time and cost. GIS can easily handle complex analytics that require evaluating a large number of sites or performing many repetitive calculations. The tool that automates these complex analytics, ModelBuilder, is an application that models workflows by stringing together sequences of geoprocessing tools.
In many cases, the data required for this type of analysis—such as network access points, cell site location, and terrain maps—is readily available. Using GIS modeling technology, the manual process can be replaced with an automated model that plans and provides cost estimates for fiber backhaul routes for hundreds of sites in less than an hour of run time. An added benefit is that the model can be modified to select routes that not only satisfy the basic backhaul requirements but also take into consideration incremental business revenue opportunities. Giving consideration to alternative routes will leverage the backhaul fiber investment to deliver new business services, revenue growth, and improved return on investment (ROI).
The Esri ArcGIS platform leverages The Science of Where. It is ideal for planning and cost estimating backhaul routes quickly and accurately, but it can also be applied to any type of network technology. To maximize ROI, today's telecommunications engineers need to consider all available network technologies. This includes cellular, Wi-Fi, fiber, coax, and even traditional copper. The ArcGIS platform is technology agnostic. It can even plan the optimal route for you to get home from that new restaurant you are planning to try.
The ArcGIS Platform—The Science of Where
Link to backhaul site – see below