Monday, August 29, 2011

Smallworld Technical Paper No. 14 - GIS in the Cable Market

by John Rand MSCTE, Design Manager, Cambridge Cable Ltd, Cambridge U.K.

John Rand has considerable experience in the cable TV and Telecommunications industry, originally specialising in the Local Network with British Telecom. He joined Cambridge Cable on formation and was instrumental in the development of the integrated cable TV and telecommunications network design. Responsible for selecting and implementing GIS including advising on development. He studied Telecommunications at Southgate College, London and cable television at Atlanta Georgia. Currently studying Management at Anglia University, Cambridge, specialising in Operations and Project Management.


This paper will look at the cable industry's requirements for a Geographical Information System (GIS) and the contribution a GIS will make to the cable TV telecommunications business. Analysis will be made of existing CAD systems and the GIS capabilities applicable to the unique UK cable industry and the reasons for changing systems. This industry is expanding at a rapid rate and I have illustrated how GIS can be used to meet the business plan goals. The areas of implementation, finance and marketing are also discussed.

The paper concludes that to reap the full business opportunities presented to this unique industry a GIS is the only credible system available for utilising the company's resources to their maximum benefit.


GIS is only just starting to emerge as a useful tool within the cable industry. Its presence has been known for many years and although a few vendors have tried to develop a successful product, none until recently appear to have achieved this. However that scene now appears to be changing and we are at a point now where before us lies a seemingly endless vista of possibilities for the use of the system within the industry. Though the nature of the system is far-reaching in every aspect of our business, the implementation and development of our requirements are by no means straightforward and indeed are proving to be quite complex. This paper will look at how Cambridge Cable intends to use this "State of the art" technology through its benefits, to reach our vision of becoming the premier provider of entertainment, information and communications services for the benefit of the community and our customers, employees and shareholders and how this technology can benefit the whole industry. The presence of GIS will eventually be experienced in just about every department of the company providing the core information to drive the company forward. It will eventually be as commonplace as any other information system only more crucial.

The leading cable companies in the UK are beginning to implement GIS. This paper will look at the benefits of GIS to the cable industry, the newest of the utility companies.

The UK Cable Market

In order to appreciate fully the importance of the GIS industry within the cable market it is essential to understand the unique nature of the cable industry within the UK and the implications. A brief illustration of the industry follows.

UK Cable Market

Within the UK, 139 cable television franchise areas have been created by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Franchise areas cover areas of dense population therefore only 70% of the UK is covered, however, expansion and creation of other franchise areas are possible. The first 12 franchises were awarded in the mid 80s and the remaining 127 franchises areas in the last five years. Cable television companies holding franchisee area licences can also apply for "Public Telecommunication Operator Licences" (PTO) for their areas, therefore creating a dual service industry, cable TV and telecommunications. The regulatory bodies for cable television and telecommunications are the Independent Television Committee (ITC) and Office for Telecommunications (OFTEL) respectively. The provision of two major service products by one company makes us unlike any other utility company.

[ Figure 1 not available ]

Cambridge Cable's Position within the UK Market

Cambridge Cable Limited (CCL) was formed in July 1988. It was awarded the Cambridge franchise in June 1990 and started constructing the network in June of 1991. The Anglia franchise was acquired in December 1992 thus making a total of approximately 200,000 homes covered by our operation. CCL is jointly owned by Comcast Communications of Philadelphia, USA and Singapore Telecom International.

How the Industry Works

The measure of the size of a franchise or company is how many homes fall within the franchise boundary; the penetration of our services into this number is one of the core statistics to watch. This represents expected income revenue with which to repay investment. The income from the two services is subtly different in that from cable TV it is a set flat monthly rate, depending on the chosen package, whereas telecommunications revenue is dependent upon usage. As owners of a cable TV franchise, there is no competition for broadband services, (British Telecom cannot operate cable television services on its network until 1997); however, British Telecom is our main competitor for "Local Loop" services. This is where the cable companies must use all their resources to succeed and gain the upper hand. The leading UK cable companies pride themselves in using "state of the art" technologies and practices to achieve this and thus the importance of using GIS becomes abundantly clear.

Economics of the Industry

The basic economics of the industry are similar to those of any other; finance is raised and used to construct an infrastructure network over which our services can be carried. Both services will be constructed as one network. The incremental costs for the second network are minimal as the greatest investment lies within the civil construction costs.

Cambridge Cable has four main strategic goals. With the assistance of GIS all these objectives can be achieved and maintained efficiently.

1. To create and develop profitable market opportunities. Through geographical market analysis, correct products and services can be determined and potential opportunities exploited.

2. To provide a wide range of differentiated quality services and products at competitive prices. Again GIS will be invaluable as a tool for market analysis.

3. To ensure the network is "future-proof", user-friendly and cost-effective. GIS will be used to simulate different architectural models and assess new technologies, giving us the required information to build an economical and reliable network.

4. To hire, develop, and retain the right people at the right time. The implementation of GIS as "state of the art" equipment demonstrates commitment by Cambridge Cable to new technology and to providing people with the right tools and information to develop careers.

[ Figure 2 not available ]

GIS will be a significant force in achieving these goals and contributing to the company's success.

The obstacle to this is that the existing situation relies on manual interaction between the different departments. Currently, design is drafted on a CAD system and from there on is printed and used in paper format. Other systems exist within the cable TV operation, Subscriber Management System, Network Management Systems and the Telecom Network Circuit Assignment Systems, however none of these interact leaving numerous opportunities for miscommunication and "information-error".

The supra-system of the business and the requirement for return on investment and instant current information on network and customers is causing stress on the sub-systems of:-

Subscriber Management System

Network Management System

Telecom Circuit Assignment System

plus various manual systems.This creates the need for a global system. The answer is the implementation of a GIS which can facilitate the interaction of all these sub-systems.

The combination of return on investment, instant access to current information on the network and customer information is essential; the supra-system is causing stress on all three of these sub-systems, creating the need for a global system. The answer lies in implementing GIS which can facilitate the interaction of these sub-systems.

The Cable Industry and GIS

Cable Requirements of a GIS

The process of obtaining customers to bring in revenue begins with constructing the network, therefore, design is required. The principal requirement is for a system able to produce comprehensive designs, information on the areas already constructed and on the network status which will be readily available to those requiring it at any time. An ideal example of how a complete system would work is as follows:

1. Survey information would be collated from the field on a portable PC and input directly on to the digital Ordnance Survey map. This information would then be downloaded into the GIS and the design created thereon.

2. On completion of the design, customer addresses would be transferred to the Subscriber Management System and automatically "populated". Telecom assignment information would also be transferred to the Circuit Assignment System and purchasing would also automatically receive Bill Of Information (BOM) information.

3. The GIS information would be linked to the cable television and Telecommunication Network Management Systems. Should there be a network performance problem or outage, instant geographical information/reports can be generated alongside instantaneous information for customer services.

4. Black spot analysis for maintenance purposes becomes effortless and marketing can identify meaningful information.

[ Figure 3 not available ]

History of GIS in the Cable Industry

As mentioned earlier GIS has never quite found its feet within the cable industry. The majority of cable companies have either used pen and paper or CAD systems which are extremely stylised (Newell and Sancha 1990). A few GIS vendors have tried to develop GIS systems for the cable market. Cambridge Cable purchased a CAD system early 1991 and had been using it as a successful tool until recently. Many functions available on GIS were not available on CAD and this was compounded by the lack of support given to the product. The CAD system imposes severe limitations on effective use within this rapidly growing industry, Newell and Sancha (1990) commented "Several of the established CAD vendors tried to adapt their CAD systems for GIS applications. This resulted in most unsatisfactory compromises"; "CAD vendors continued to try to convince the industry that they had a viable product by integrating their databases with the CAD function" and item referred to "marrying together two inadequate systems" (Newell and Sancha 1990). The two technologies of database and CAD do not integrate easily. In late 1992 the industry started to talk more about GIS. No single GIS system proved to be totally reliable and no single vendor stood out. Cambridge Cable were approached by Smallworld - a company well established in GIS and based locally in Cambridge - to work with Smallworld to develop the combined cable TV and telecommunications model. Also to establish an unrivalled product for the industry. Fundamental requirements included; data capture, performance, customisation and integration (Newell and Theriault 1989). These aspects were severely limited or non-existent with Cambridge Cable's current system.

[ Figure 4 not available ]

Implementation of GIS

It is clear now that no improvements to the CAD system could have provided our business with its requirements. The GIS is now installed within the design department and is already proving beneficial through its ability to calculate system performance thus helping to obviate the need to use design contractors.

The next stage of implementation is to integrate the Network Management Systems and Subscriber Management System etc.

The final and more idealistic stage of implementation is that to integrate GIS throughout the company to provide full, up to date network information to everyone. "As the number of users sharing information in this way increases, the system will constitute a continually improving Geographic Information System for the benefit of all" (Bernhardsen and Tveitdal 1986). This will also improve the "work conditions for the specific personnel groups" Kubik, Merchant et al 1987) in that having relevant current information immediately at hand will be of enormous benefit for optimum performance.

Why Invest in GIS

Should a cable company invest in GIS? Considering the magnitude of the initial investment, should they stay with their manual paper or CAD methods? When also is the best time to invest? The analogy I put forward is that of comparing GIS to that of computing in the 60s. The first generation have high purchase costs, high maintenance and few benefits but as things have progressed no business would be without one. GIS is now sufficiently developed to be useful to the cable industry. Moving eventually, like computing in the 60s, no cable operation will exist without a GIS. With networks growing at a tremendous rate any wise company would invest in GIS. The thought of transferring enormous amounts of data at an advanced stage of the build is horrifying and expensive.

The investment in a GIS system as a proportion of the total investment in constructing the total network is only a fraction of the costs. Considering this will be controlling the network assets and providing the benefits described later, it can be seen as an essential long-term investment.

What are the Benefits to the Cable Business

  • Improve the quality of network design by enforcing engineering rules and standards which can be preset and fine tuned.
  • Facilitate the achievement of cost reduction and quality improvements in passing addresses to the Subscriber Management System with implementation of an automated interface.
  • Improve repairs to the network through the provision of visual aids on fault investigation.
  • Simulation of different architectural network models to evaluate the most cost-effective solution to design scenarios, e.g. "Fibre to the Feeder" architecture versus "Fibre to the Kerb".
  • A GIS is a very useful tool in evaluating new technologies and their impact on existing networks, e.g., PDH Versus SDH
  • Analysis of financial comparisons of percentage turnover ploughed in against speculation.
  • Having advanced equipment attracts the right calibre of staff and enables them to advance their careers with current technology.
  • Attraction of investment within the company by being seen as innovative and conscious of the need to have accessibility to vital information.
  • Accurate inventory of assets and asset management for capital accounts. Also analysis of potential acquisitions including identification of existing or potential plant within those areas.
  • Interactive queries for precise retrieval of information concerning the network.
  • Quicker response times to customer orders, due to readily available information, especially regarding telecom enquiries and indication of likely installation dates.
  • Substantial savings can also be made through integrating GIS with purchasing, warehousing, and the construction programme. Bill of Materials (BOM) created by GIS can be transferred to the purchasing computer system where they can be ordered on minimum lead time in relation to the construction schedule and received in the warehouse for "just in time" materials management.
  • Geographic survey information captured on GIS can be sold commercially to any other parties interested in such data.
  • It can also query information without the need to survey.

Economic Benefits

Many of the above points can represent very tangible cost savings and through collation of data this can be proved. However with GIS there are considerable intangible cost benefit savings that only GIS can give, as opposed to improving existing systems. An example of this is that, after the initial investment in GIS, savings in staff can be made without the usual element of human error.

Intangible benefits:-

More information (marketing, customer service, fault locates etc) Better analysis with less labour time (marketing, new technologies) Ability to do analysis not possible before (new RF and telecom technologies) Better decisions (build areas, new technologies) Better planning (network design, business plan) Better understanding and analysis of highly complicated systems

[ Figure 5 not available ]

Return on Investment

Deciding where to build currently concentrates on areas of highest density. This is desirable because eventually we want to provide service to every home in the franchise area. The denser areas are typically those with the best demographics although, currently, no marketing analysis is done to determine if any of these areas are better than others. Through using GIS as a sophisticated marketing tool and analysing areas, the best potential dense areas can be built first. Early high penetration will be achieved and high revenue will be received, yielding a high return on investment.

Cable Marketing and GIS


It is essential to hit the right potential customer base with the right services. Traditionally lower socio-economic groups are better target groups for cable TV while the higher groups are more likely to be interested in telecommunication services. However it is being found now that the types of socio-economic groups mean slightly less than customer "Lifestyles" which concentrate on the use of disposable income. If this is now to be used, data set analysis can be done prior to design in order to identify the correct market and concentrate in building in that area first. Without GIS the process would be a very lengthy and laborious task.

Since telecommunications is regarded as an essential service, churn is not experienced to the same extent as with cable TV customers. If market identification and "right sizing" can be advised prior to a sale, enormous savings can be made in the areas of abortive sales calls, installation and equipment retrieval. Sophisticated marketing analysis can be done on the remaining potential customer base to determine the required product.


Clear benefits can be seen in implementing a GIS system within a cable business and the advantages are clearly defined. There is also confidence within the industry that there are credible vendors with a tremendously useful product of enormous value to a company's operation.

The near future for GIS looks exiting and in the long term there will be far reaching effects on our business. It is an essential tool in effective competition. A culture change in the working environment will be required to make acceptable this prolification of invaluable information. Precise marketing is that key and, by using GIS to interact and analyse all available information, cable companies will be able to achieve greater success within their market.


Bernhardsen,T and Tveitdal,S. 1986. Community Benefit of Digital Spacial Information. VIAK A/S - Auto Carto London, Vol.2.

Dickinson,H.J. and Calkins,H.W., 1988. The Economic Evaluation of Implementing a GIS. International Journal of Geographical Information Systems, Vol.2, No.4, pp307-327.

Joint Nordic Project, 1987, Digital Map Data Bases, Economics and User Experiences in North America (Helsinki, Finland: Publications Division of the National Board of Survey, Finland).

Kubik,K., Merchant,D. and Schenk,A. 1987. Design Considerations for Urban Information Systems. A-ASPRS- ACSM, Vol.5.

Marble,D.F. and Peuquet,D.J., 1983. Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing. Manual of Remote sensing, 2nd ed, American Society of Photogrammetry, Vol. 1.

Newell,R.G. and Sancha,T.L., April 1990. The Difference Between CAD and GIS. Computer Aided Design magazine.

Newell,R.G. and Theriault,D.G. September 1989. Ten Difficult Problems in Building a GIS. Presented at British Cartographic Society Symposium, Cambridge.

Theriault,D.G. April 1989. An overview of Geographical Information - the technology and its users. Presented at conference, Geographic Information Systems.


David Theriault, Smallworld Systems Ltd. Keith New, Cambridge Cable Ltd.

Glossary CHURN - Turnover of customers, disconnections after connection. OUTAGE - Complete loss of service. PDH - Presynchronous Digital Hierarchy. SDH - Synchronous Digital Hierarchy.

1 comment:

Bhimu... said...

Hi Alfred,

I found one more paper.. if you are not yet posted.. here is the link .. :)