One recent case in point involves major cable operators’ launch of the CableWiFi.com Web site in conjunction with the Wi-Fi roaming partnership agreement they completed in May. The site provides maps customers can reference to locate hot spots across territories served by the participating MSOs, including Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Cablevision and Bright House Networks.
Technology that can aggregate and transform various kinds of demographic, network and geographic data into dynamic interactive visual presentations has been around for a while with applications in such areas as defense, maritime operations, law enforcement and retail location planning. Such systems rely heavily on various Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the most well-known of which is Google Maps, but they go much further than merely processing geographic information to provide useful intelligence for specific industry segments.
A key supplier in the telecom arena is Mosaik Solutions, a long-time provider of roaming and other location solutions for the mobile industry that has brought its platform to the wireline and cable segments to support activities in myriad areas. Mosaik has been making significant headway as network operators come to recognize how useful the amalgamation of geographic with many other types of data can be in both customer-facing and internal operations, says Bryan Darr, president and CEO of Mosaik.
“If you look at the Wi-Fi mapping Time Warner Cable and Comcast are running on their public interfaces, that’s something we’re supporting for them, where we can identify Wi-Fi hot spots right down the street,” Darr says. “We’re providing a layered solution that also includes maps relating to HFC.”
Mosaik has developed a suite of products that employ electronic mapping techniques and flexible modes of aggregating information for myriad purposes. These include ways to develop a better understanding of the competitive landscape, improve customer service, enhance marketing and e-commerce initiatives and facilitate relationships with other service providers, as in cases where Wi-Fi under control of one provider is used to offload mobile services of another.
This last application could become an increasingly important component of cable operators’ use of geospatial network intelligence in the Wi-Fi domain. In a new survey of cellular operators’ need for Wi-Fi offloading capabilities, U.K. researcher Ovum reports strong demand for advanced technology which even carrier hotspots typically don’t provide.
Over half of surveyed cellular operators expect session continuity when moving between Wi-Fi and cellular networks, while over 90 percent are also looking for a device-based policy solution that would select the best network (3G/4G/Wi-Fi) based on cost, performance and other policy-driven features, says Daryl Schoolar, principal analyst in Ovum’s Network Infrastructure Telecoms team.
“Just a few years ago, if one were to ask mobile operators about Wi-Fi, their responses would most likely have been negative, but this has long changed with rising concerns around how to manage the growth of mobile broadband,” Schoolar says. “Now the issue is how best to build up sufficient network resources to manage Wi-Fi offload.”
Cable operators who are deploying state-of-the-art Wi-Fi networks with the sophisticated capabilities cellular carriers are looking for have a great opportunity to capture the offload business, says Michael Coyne, vice president of mobile broadband strategy at Ericsson, which recently purchased BelAir Networks to exploit the demand for advanced Wi-Fi broadband technology. The BelAir platform provides support for automatic handoffs across all cellular modes in accord with whatever business models operators work out, Coyne notes.
“When we saw all the phones, tablets and laptops were coming with Wi-Fi embedded we realized the importance support for offloading on hot spots would have for our customers,” he says. “It’s going to be important for LTE networks, but the advantage of being able to offload to Wi-Fi is even bigger for cellular guys where they don’t have LTE.”
Knowing where the need for offload support is greatest can help cable operators determine where to locate hot spots and which carriers offer the best opportunities for new business relationships, Darr notes. Moreover, the intelligence delivered through the Mosaic technology can be used to maximize the competitive benefits of Wi-Fi deployments.
“Knowing where service areas are deployed by competitors can be very important,” he says. “When you look at the five MSOs who have partnered on Wi-Fi, we can build a map of all those guys’ footprints and overlay where Verizon, AT&T, Clearwire or others have launched 4G. If you have the capability to layer this information onto your network you can quickly see where the competition can offer triple- or quadruple play using their 4G resources.”
Mapping also contributes to operators’ ability to identify under-served areas that present opportunities for acquisitions or network expansion. “It’s not just a matter of knowing who’s on the auction block,” Darr notes. “You want to know where properties exist that can provide you contiguous extensions of your network into high-value service areas.”
Mapping, of course, is not new to network operators with regard to technical personnel’s need to track network elements. “Many companies have invested a lot in mapping software and GIS expertise, but such systems aren’t designed to deliver instantaneous intelligence in all the areas where you now need to combine geographic and demographic data,” Darr says. “If you need deeper analysis for a given application, we can build a map in a matter of minutes that will deliver you that information.”
Mosaic’s two major product categories are MapELEMENTS and CoverageRight. MapELEMENTS is a hosted interactive mapping solution that supports cross-technology analysis, competitive intelligence and asset evaluations by enabling views of all available coverage patterns at a point or within defined boundaries from a single Web browser. CoverageRight is a comprehensive collection of GIS data sets that provide network coverage intelligence, allowing users to leverage major GIS software applications to perform analyses against both proprietary and Mosaik Solutions’ intelligence.
Mosaik also provides telecommunications coverage patterns, wireless spectrum depth, network configurations and licensing data, all of which can be tailored via geospatial and analytical tools to each client’s needs. In the U.S., Mosaik can create “CellMaps” for customers that tap data covering all the cellular licenses, cable TV franchises, broadcast TV stations, landline footprints and a wealth of demographic information, Darr notes.
“We’re really pleased at how quickly network service providers have embraced the intelligent mapping concept,” Darr says. “What we’re finding is customers have so many specific uses for our expertise that a lot of our energies are now devoted to customization of these solutions.”