Why is open telecoms data key to winning the race for superfast broadband?

August 6th, 2021 by · Leave a Comment

This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Jay Cadman, Senior Vice President, Enterprise, at IQGeo

In the wake of the economic impact from COVID-19 restrictions, most enterprises see fiber and 5G networks as critical to their reinvention and recovery, providing the post-pandemic jumpstart the economy needs. It has the potential to turbocharge economic growth and deliver GDP growth of more than 40% by 2030 on some estimates. The 5G value chain alone is expected to sustain 22.8 million jobs, delivering $3.8 trillion in economic output by 2035. Work-from-home policies, trade and travel restrictions have necessitated a wholesale digital transformation of business processes and accelerated the digitalization of sectors such as manufacturing.

The growing use of automation, virtualization and remote collaboration accelerated by COVID-19 renders superfast broadband more imperative than ever. Fiber and 5G will be vital to helping small businesses constrained by the pandemic run more efficiently and better serve customers as well as underpinning critical new economic innovations from smart cities and autonomous transport to digital education and the industrial IoT. GSMA predicts that the global IoT market alone will be worth $900 billion in revenue by 2025 – an almost threefold increase on 2019.

The Biden administration recently promised $100 billion of a $2 trillion infrastructure plan to improve broadband infrastructure across the nation, with the ambition of providing high-speed broadband connectivity for all Americans by 2029. This puts fiber and 5G at the heart of efforts to rebuild and recharge America’s economy.

Yet the challenge is immense. 14% of all US children aged between 3-18 are without home internet access and it is estimated that over a third of Americans living in rural areas lack access to a quality standard of broadband. The central challenge is finding a way to ensure competing telecoms networks complement one another to collectively deliver nationwide coverage. This involves avoiding duplication of infrastructure efforts and maximizing collective use of ‘dark fiber’ or spare capacity. It also involves finding a commercially viable way for companies to deliver high-speed broadband to small businesses and towns and remote or rural communities. At the root of the challenge is that many organizations are failing to consolidate, integrate and open up the rich data about their networks from devices, sensors, and employees in the field.  This data holds clues to the fastest, most cost-effective routes to achieve wider coverage or maximize the reach of existing networks, predict, and prevent outages, target upgrades, and identify unused capacity that can be utilized or leased out to others. Yet it is not being collected, consolidated, or exploited on a scale that is essential to deliver on ambitious coverage targets.

“The failure to digitalize and integrate network data is hampering new deployments”

Workflows such as maintenance and construction and important datasets such as records of network defects or as-builts are fragmented and held in different formats, proprietary apps, or paper maps. Geospatial telecoms network data is often centralized, siloed, inaccessible to field workers, contractors, customer service staff and other key stakeholders across the enterprise. All too often data is held in formats that demand expert knowledge and are incompatible with other data sources such as street maps or meteorological and ecological hazard data. Such cross-sector data integration is essential to identify low-risk and commercially viable pathways for new networks to reach new markets.  For example, a large university in the western US is using advanced geospatial data to predict extra capacity and plan the most cost-effective pathways to deliver coverage across its satellite campuses and support their local communities by sharing unused fiber capacity.

Siloed, centralized, and closed telecoms data is particularly damaging to smaller operators who lack the resources or budget to integrate external data on nearby hazards or opportunities with internal processes and workflows. Similarly, potentially crucial data on risks or opportunities from the nearby natural and built environment, such as trees that could obstruct signals, damage infrastructure or could be overlooked and cause unnecessary construction delays. The failure to digitalize and integrate network data is hampering new deployments or smarter use of existing networks to deliver nationwide coverage.  A diverse market of startup providers, Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs), and organizations such as transport, government, and commercial operators willing to lease out spare bandwidth would complement the efforts of large and small telcos to reach underserved areas that are otherwise commercially unviable.

For example, one regional operator we’ve worked with recently digitalized their network data and uncovered over 200 “dark” broadband fibers, which could provide significant extra capacity for the local community. The discovery of unused broadband capacity and pathways to coverage for other areas reduces unnecessary infrastructure spending by allowing organizations to share unused bandwidth while generating new revenue streams. In this way, organizations can create more efficient telecoms networks and get maximum reach from minimal resources to contribute to wider national coverage.

Operators need to prioritize open, decentralized access to data

As networks expand and grow more complex, having an accurate, live view of existing assets will be increasingly vital to planning efficient new infrastructure investment. For example, an accurate geospatial view of gaps in network capacity in underserved areas can help maximize coverage and market reach with minimal new cable or antennas. A precise overview of where existing networks intersect with nearby infrastructure can help identify opportunities to serve new customers, avoid signal interference from manmade structures or harness rooftops to help signals reach wider areas. As the industry continues to integrate next-generation fiber and 5G networks, implementing processes and technology that encourage data sharing will be key to future-proofing operations and collaboration within and between teams. In the short and long term, operators have the opportunity to prioritize open, decentralized access to data to accelerate deployments and foster a healthy, competitive culture across the industry.

Telecoms operators can capture the high ground by digitalizing, decentralizing, and democratizing their own data and operations. They can dissolve data silos and open up their network information to all departments to create rich real-time data from the field that can be swiftly accessed from any location. This could help to dramatically improve customer service, repair and response times as well as allow smarter planning of new network capacity and proactive, predictive maintenance of existing assets. This strategy will make it far easier to merge data from other sources to fuel smarter infrastructure planning and achieve wider national coverage.

If nationwide broadband is to be realized, telecoms operators can learn the lessons of the very data revolution they are helping to facilitate across other industries Now is the time to shift away from secretive, siloed data held in archaic formats towards integrated open network data that drives smart, holistic infrastructure planning for the future.

Jay has over 25 years’ experience in successfully building B2B technology sales and marketing organizations. He has worked in large multi-nationals, as well as start-ups in North America, Europe and Asia including GE, Smallworld and Ubisense. Jay has successfully led entry and expansion in telecommunications, utilities, manufacturing, aerospace and military markets internationally and specializes in building high performance highly motivated teams.

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Categories: Big Data · Industry Viewpoint

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