What if you could plan a Fiber-to-the-X network the same way you search for directions on Google maps or Bing maps? You enter the address of every home you want to connect and the system tells you where to put your cables and cabinets. As with Google Maps there would also be different routing options. But, instead of choosing to go by bike or car, you would choose to go underground or aerial, depending on your design guidelines.

In recent times, ‘automation’ has been a buzzword used widely across various industries and its advantages are utilized by every sector. The telecom industry is no different, where outside plant fiber network planning and design is being automated to save time and money. All of this is possible due to the readily available Geographical Information Systems (GIS) data which is entered in these automated solutions.

GIS data is the merger of geographical details and collected information. Geographical detail consists of co-ordinates and geometries of the elements, such as points (e.g. address locations), lines (e.g. streets) or polygons (e.g. city borders). Collected information includes names and details about the element, e.g. street name, address, number of housing units in the address, residential or commercial, etc.

Web maps services use GIS information about the address location, streets information and traffic information to give you different routing options with the expected time associated with those routes. In a similar way automated network planning and designing tools use address information, street data, pole locations and other geographic information to route the cables and design the network with the cost associated with that network design.

Automation tools are quickly replacing the traditional methods of planning and designing networks by hand as they are far more efficient. GIS data is a crucial requirement for these tools, therefore users need to know how to gather this data effectively. Currently, the Internet is being used to distribute data to the masses, which means it is pertinent to know where to look and who to contact to acquire the data.

We hope that this blog can help our readers in their search for GIS data for their fiber network planning and design. We have compiled a list of different GIS data sources and techniques to acquire this data. Every source or technique has their strengths and limitations, so it is important to understand their characteristics, costs, and benefits before using them.

Open Source

Open source data is by definition data that can be used for free. Open source projects typically are worked on by a community of volunteers, so the quality cannot be guaranteed However in general if there is a strong community working on the project, the quality can be very high.

Open Street Map extract

Open Street Map extract

Data sources we frequently use:

Pros and cons

Pros Cons
Use of data is absolutely free Data can be inaccurate or information might be missing due to which a bit of user editing might be required
Available data is constantly being updated by 2 million members, who use GPS tools, satellite photographs, and their own knowledge of the area. Community members verify new entries and correct mistakes as well Data is not available for all communities and varies significantly by nation. Availability and quality of the data depends on how active the local community is

 

Government Sources

Local government (cities, counties, etc.) bodies collect and provide data, but data is usually not readily available on the Internet and coverage can vary greatly. This is changing rapidly as more and more government bodies are making data available online. Local municipalities and development authorities can be contacted or their websites can be checked for the available data.

Pros and cons

Pros Cons
Available data is accurate and detailed Different government agencies organize their structure and data in different ways which means the data format can vary from place to place. The available data might not be in your preferred format requiring some conversion work.
One strong suit of getting information from government agencies is that most is in the public domain and can be used for free. Occasionally, a small transfer cost is charged As states and cities vary so greatly in their systems of organization, it might take some time to discover which agency holds the information you want. This means that finding information at the local and state levels can be time consuming and could involve making phone calls, writing letters, asking questions, and visiting the agencies in person.

Paid GIS providers

There are many private sources of GIS information, with commercial mapmaking firms among the largest providers. Nevertheless, there are plenty of other firms that have also supplied this information for years now. These providers can also help you to find publicly available data or convert existing data as per user needs.

Pros and cons

Pros Cons
Detailed demographic and socioeconomic information usually available This information can be expensive to purchase. It can vary depending on the technology they use to gather the data: data collection, desktop survey or street survey.
Highly accurate because the data is usually checked and corrected as it is repackaged. These datasets are built to the user’s specifications and preferred format.  This can be a time consuming effort as the data is not always readily available.

Mobile Mapping

Mobile mapping is the process of collecting geospatial data from a mobile vehicle, typically fitted with a range of photographic, radar, LiDAR or any number of remote sensing systems. The primary output from such systems include GIS data, digital maps, and georeferenced images and video. This is a technique that you can use yourself or hire through data providers in your area.

Desktop Survey using Mobile Mapping and LiDAR data

Desktop Survey using Mobile Mapping and LiDAR data

Pros and cons

Pros Cons
This process provides a rich dataset with high data density for close range acquisition. Acquiring data through this method can be expensive.
The data is extremely accurate, up to a few millimeters depending on the hardware used. This is a strictly line-of-sight technology. In general terms, if you can’t visually see the feature from the acquisition platform, then you will not pick it up in the acquired data. e.g. if you want to count the number of doorbells to estimate the home count then these need to be visible from the street.

Mobile survey

One of the great leaps due to technology is the advancement of field survey tools. Not so long ago a field surveyor would use sheets of paper in which they would fill out pre-defined questionnaires and would use some expensive GPS device to geo-locate their location or write it down.  These days, the same methodology would be used, but the surveyor would utilize a tablet or a smartphone.

Pros and cons

Pros Cons
Full control over which data is captured. It can be time consuming to collect data as you need to walk every single street
You are confident that the data is up-to-date. Occasionally information can be missed. This might only be discovered at a later stage.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many ways to acquire GIS data for your fiber network deployment project. Each have their pros and cons. Depending on the stage of the project, the required data accuracy can vary. Once you are in the detailed design phase it is no longer sufficient to know what streets you will use to route your cable, but you will need to know whether you will need to trench in the tiling, asphalt or grass and the costs associated with these trenching. Often it can make sense to use data from a combination of the listed sources. For example, in the early planning phase free data from open sources is often sufficient to make decisions like whether or where to rollout. Once these decisions are made then users can opt for paid sources to acquire data to obtain a higher granularity of details and ultimately might want to verify the information in the field.

 

If you have any further questions about using GIS in your FTTx planning and design, contact us today.

 

 

 

 

 

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