With knowledge comes power

You’ve got Amazon knowing everything about purchasing, Google knowing everything about what people do on the Internet, and Salesforce knowing everything about the revenue side of a business.”
Scott Raney

The big question for CSPs as they make the transition to the more modern Digital Service Provider (DSP) business models is, “what big thing can they know everything about and use to help their customers be more efficient and profitable.

Telcos were most profitable when their services supported business. The telephone was used to create leads, close deals, control supply chains, etc. With e-business models, that has shifted to online marketing, analytics on marketing (amongst other things), digital supply chains, etc.

Telcos are no longer providing the tools that organisations value most (except perhaps mobility access to all the more important content and apps).

OSS have the potential to become enormous customer insight engines on behalf of the CSPs, but only if they’re taken beyond being seen as operational tools only.

Photos in the field

With the ubiquity of smart phones, when field workers are on site, they often photograph assets to show the state of the network before and /or after their site visit.

Many organisations with OSS also have Digital Asset Management (DAM) tools that allow them to store digital assets (images, video, audio, etc) in a central repository where they can be searched, managed, retrieved and shared. Perhaps not even a DAM as such, but centrally accessible file storage.

Today’s concept is to create an app to store the photo from the phone to the DAM and then easily link to the asset in the OSS inventory manager (eg a URL from the DAM being loaded into an applicable field in the OSS), also allowing notes on that asset to be amended into the OSS.

In theory, such an app could be configured to interface into any inventory manager, making it saleable to any customer, vendor or OSS integrator.

It’s common for an image to be stored somewhere other than in the OSS, and have a hyperlink stored in the OSS. It’s just painful to store hyperlinks against specific inventory items, especially in large volumes. This app would remove the pain point by acting as the glue between phone, DAM and OSS.

A couple of other thoughts:

  • Using geo-tagging within images to help correlate with fixed assets in the OSS
  • Using asset identification tools (eg RFID, NFC, QR codes, etc ) to determine the asset
  • Aligning DAM / inventory content with virtual reality tools
  • Enforcement of image naming conventions on the DAM
  • Generating design packs and subsequent as-builts with mark-ups on top of photos from in the field

Have you come across anything similar during your travels in OSS? What other important features would such an app need?

Managing property with OSS?

There’s a slight problem about being passionate about OSS – you see everything In relation to OSS problems, solutions, analogies, etc.

l was talking with Simon, a great friend of mine recently about a new role that he’s taking on. He will be responsible for technology in the facilities used by the large bank that he works for. Those facilities include branches, offices, data centres and more, The conversation started out on the challenges facing facilities managers including energy efficiency, occupation rates, meeting room utilisation rates, cost per desk, workforce efficiency, utility allocation / billing and many other KPls.

The tech he has been considering in this space was wide and varied but primarily came down to additional types of sensors that will ultimately reduce costs for his employer. Many of these sensors sound very cool (no pun intended re. HVAC sensors). As you can imagine, the executives at the bank don’t fund cool, they fund cost-out projects,

The same is true for OSS but that’s not the overlap I was thinking about on this occasion. It was how sensor networks in buildings collect vast amounts of data, aggregate it, process it, analyse it against a particular metric or theme and then provide insights based on that benchmark. We then got onto the topic of circulating (another HVAC pun) the benchmark results for the purpose of gamification and competition between different parts of the organisation.

You can see why l consider existing OSS capabilities as being well placed for servicing the IoT space can’t you?

Then we got onto the topic of blockchain and smart contracts so my OSS-coloured glasses kicked in again but that’s a story for another day.

PS. Yes, in the pre-IoT days, we managed buildings through software like BMS (Building Management Systems), PAGA (Public Address General Alarm), physical security (eg ACS – Access Control Systems) and other tools not to mention environmentals but the IoT buzzword is taking it to another level.


10 ideas – nascent technologies

“Which 10 nascent technologies will impact and be impacted by OSS in the future?”

  1. Cloud delivery and related services models that allow carriers to reduce their OSS CAPEX load and outsource aspects of operations. The other important aspect of cloud delivery is web-scaling of infrastructure for efficient, but resilient OSS platform architectures
  2. Network virtualization for on-demand resource allocation and associated reductions in power use by CSPs, an area where OSS has barely scratched the surface
  3. Network security has the potential to share information on a much larger scale than currently. Fear is a driving force in budget allocations and network security threats are on the rise
  4. Big Data and analytics are already widely used by CSPs but flexible, data driven application models appear to be the only way to keep pace with the rapid change thrust upon our industry
  5. Machine Learning and Predictive Analytics will be the only way that operations teams will be able to keep up as we see a touchpoint explosion. The associated rise in actionable events won’t be able to be handled without machine assisted decision support
  6. Service chaining, orchestration and automation are already important but will become increasingly important due to the touchpoint explosion and the increased complexity of virtualised networks
  7. Wireless sensor networks / IoT aren’t exactly nascent despite recent hype. Telemetry networks have been around for decades. The change will come from a rapid increase in sensors for the consumer / retail market (rather than business market) and the need for multi tenanted operational solutions to monitor and manage them, not to mention supporting the building of third-party apps on them
  8. Self-organizing Networks (SON) has primarily been focussed on mobile networks but the concept extends to all network types if the OSS will support it
  9. Blockchain will potentially represent the solution to a number of current OSS problems, including data integrity and automated contract handling (eg SLAs, QoS, delivery times, etc). More on this in future blogs
  10. Telco-led ecosystems in loT, health-care and more will leverage the power of the value fabric and the power of innovation that come with it. Essential for delivering value to the varied needs of the long tail of customers (ie all customers other than the top-100)

Another 10 ideas

In yesterday’s post, “Just 10 ideas“, I talked about James Altucher’s “Idea Machine,” of coming up with 10 ideas every day, regardless of whether they’re good or not. I took a slightly different twist on the concept and posed a series of 10 questions, which in turn will probably have at least 10 idea responses. That’s 100 OSS ideas.

Today’s post lists another 10 questions to jump-start your (and my) idea machine, as follows:

  1. What are the 10 reasons why the term OSS will be irrelevant / redundant within 5 years?
  2. What are the 10 reasons why OSS will fundamentally change the world of communications and digital industry within the next 5 years?
  3. In what 10 ways can OSS better utilise spatially-relevant data?
  4. What 10 unexpected data sources could provide fundamentally different insight generation from your existing OSS?
  5. Communications and Digital Service Provider (CSP / DSP) business models are evolving almost faster than we can keep up. What 10 reasons can your foresee OSS facilitating these changes?
  6. What 10 reasons can you foresee OSS hindering these changes?
  7. What are the 10 most frequent reasons why customers contact CSP / DSP call centres? Hence, what are the 10 most important functions / insights / capabilities that front-line staff (eg call centre operators) need at their fingertips from OSS to be able to respond to customer requests?
  8. What 10 ways can you interact with your OSS that don’t include keyboard, mouse or touch-pad?
  9. What are the 10 most ridiculous things you’ve seen whilst working on OSS projects? But more importantly, what did you learn from them?
  10. What should be the first 10 events scheduled at an OSS Olympics?

Tomorrow’s blog will have a closer look at the last one – OSS Olympics.

Just 10 ideas

You can’t trust the old style of thinking anymore. You have to come up with a new way of thinking. A new way of having ideas. A new way of interacting with the outside universe.”
James Altucher.

I’m currently reading James Altucher’s latest book. It has nothing to do with OSS but it has a myriad of ideas to ponder for OSS exponents.

He speaks about ideas being currency in the modern world and hence the need to be an idea machine.

l love the concept. It’s part of the reason why l founded PAOSS – to force me to generate more ideas about OSS and share them with the world (or at least the sub-set of the global population that reads PAOSS).

There’s just one problem. James suggests coming up with 10 ideas every day. Sounds like a challenge worth taking on though.

I’d love to get your assistance on this one, to help provide a little push to get the PAOSS idea machine moving faster.

  1. What are the 10 biggest problems you face or our industry faces?
  2. What are the 10 things that you’d like to get better at?
  3. Our thinking is often constrained by the complexity of the challenges, so which 10 complexities would you like to snap your fingers and remove?
  4. Which 10 nascent technologies will impact OSS in the future?
  5. Which 10 technologies will be dead in 5 years or less?
  6. Which 10 technologies do we need that haven’t been invented yet?
  7. Name 10 ways in which machine learning will impact our industry
  8. Which 10 ways can we use to overcome the OSS skills shortage?
  9. Which 10 laws of nature don’t apply to OSS?
  10. Which 10 analogies from other industries can you apply to OSS?

Perhaps you’d like to throw some other lists of 10 at the PAOSS community and I for philosophising over?

Hmmm. I already have another 10 in a list so let’s continue with this tomorrow.

Segmentation of one

SMSes and push notifications have eight times higher response rates from consumers compared to emails. Thus, sending relevant and targeted push notifications would not only have higher response rates for the brand but also improve the shopping experience for the customer.”
Nameet Potnis

It’s been a bit of a “marketing” week here on PAOSS. The theme continues today. That number above is a big one – 8x. Did it jump out at you too?

Let’s work back from something important here – marketing nirvana, aka segmentation of one, aka completely personalised marketing messaging for every single potential customer. The question here is how does OSS provide the pathway to marketing nirvana?

A few key points:

  • 8x the response rate from notifications (see here)
  • 60 percent of retail browsing happens on mobile devices, those devices only account for 15 percent of dollars spent (see here) leaving lots of upside potential for m-commerce platforms
  • The next billion people coming online will experience the internet for the first time through a small device they carry in their pocket – their smartphone (see here)
  • The three notes above point to the potential of mobile platforms and the apps that reside on them
  • The combination of mobile platforms and apps also provide unparalleled real-time personal choice and locational data collection potential
  • Through ownership (leasing rights) of spectrum, CSPs monopolise the mobile networks, but not necessarily the mobile platforms or apps
  • CSPs tend to have massive subscriber bases
  • Via the value fabric, network platforms (mobile, cloud, access, etc), DPI tools and their broad subscriber bases, CSPs have access to statistics relating to significant portions of a digital supply chain
  • CSPs tend to be inherently trusted for the accuracy of their billing (if not necessarily the technical implementation of the bill runs and related data)
  • Wireless sensor networks / IoT via CSP networks have the ability to further enhance the data collection story

Through the combination of OSS, BSS and mobile network analytics, CSPs hold most (but not all) of the cards on which to deliver marketing nirvana to their business customers. Mobility platforms and application delivery frameworks are two of the missing cards. The operational tools that deliver insight and systematisation from the collected data is the card that completes the unbeatable hand.

The Service Operations Centre (SOC) is one of the next big trends sweeping the CSP industry, but I wonder whether that concept is falling a step short? Is the SOC concept delivering visibility to customers of the health of their digital supply chain rather than giving them the marketing tools to help them fill that supply chain?

I must note that these concepts do tread on thin ethical ice in relation to the Big Brother effect. The CSP‘s customers wear the biggest brand risk if they’re sending spammy notifications, but there would be a collateral damage risk for the CSPs too by association they’re providing their customers with the tools.

Hat tip to Tim for the heads-up on the m-commerce link/s above.

Hat tip to Frank for his thoughts on the risks to CSPs in delivering “marketing nirvana” tools to their customers

Changing of the guard

Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or emotional appeal.”
Marilyn Ferguson

lt’s an exciting time for spatially-based OSS.

The tools that underpin them such as GIS and CAD have moved off the desktop and onto mobile devices. Sensor networks, geo-positioning and augmented reality technologies are also making significant advances at more commercially viable price points for mobile solutions.

But perhaps the most significant reason is not directly related to the tech at all.

It’s actually a changing of the guard in the workforce. The field workforce that maintains our outside plant (OSP) networks is refreshing. The older technicians who were more comfortable with A-0 paper diagrams and less familiar with technology are retiring and being replaced by Millennials who have grown up immersed in tech.

This refresh brings with it an opportunity to test completely new types of OSP OSS on these willing guinea pigs.

Our opportunities lie in the ability to get real-time information to and from the field via OSS tools.

The added benefit of these real-time communications links is in improving data quality – the bane of the existence of many OSS practitioners. It provides the ability to add feedback loops to improve data quality in the OSP networks that rarely have programmatic interfaces.

How can I add value to you?

Today’s blog is all about you (actually they all have you in mind collectively, but this one encourages you to voice your specific obstacles to progress).

In the world of OSS (or perhaps even beyond), what value can I add that goes beyond the generalities of a blog and will help you get what you want? Is there any specific challenge that is preventing you from getting to where you want (or need) to go?

My role as an ICT and OSS consultant can be broken down into two key attributes :

  1. Being a connector (of people, ideas, technologies, products, methodologies, companies, customers, etc) and coach
  2. Producing an outcome that is not possible to do in-house given the constraints that exist in time, resources, skill-sets, priorities, etc

Who do you need to connect with who would be able to help you resolve a problem or jump to the next level? What technology do you want to know more about such as whether it fits your business objectives for the future?

What else is vexing you?

Leave me a message below and I’ll hopefully be able to produce an outcome or connection that can assist you in some meaningful way.

Corning glass in OSS

l love this YouTube video by Corning. l love the future-thinking in relation to how we will interact with the spaces around us. l love the way they’ve turned a blank canvas like our sliding mirror door into an interactive panel.

Did you notice the touch panel at around 2:40 into the video? Do you have any ideas for how something like this could be used in our industry? Two that immediately sprung to my mind are:

  • Resolving cross-domain or complex incidents and
  • Designing cross-domain network or service diagrams

Can you see this becoming a standard input / output technique in OSS? Which of the two options (wall or table panel) do you think would be more useful?

Have you already heard of any OSS organisations or service providers developing tools to make use of these types of panels (which are already available on a smaller scale BTW)?

The Changing Landscape of OSS

The Changing Landscape of Operational Support Systems (OSS):

Technologies, Solutions, and Organizational Impacts


I’m proud to announce that my latest publication has been released today. Click on the image (or here) to find out more about the document published in conjunction with Mind Commerce.

Operational Support Systems (OSS) are the essential set of tools required for a Communications Service Provider (CSP) to design, deploy, monitor and maintain the content, networks and services that their customers pay to use. There are significant changes underway in the CSP industry that are causing fundamental re-evaluations of business models, technology stacks and service offerings. These disruptions to the status quo are similarly influencing, and being influenced by, OSS.

This research assesses a range of relatively nascent technologies that have the potential to change the dynamic of OSS, whether via the networks they manage, or as building blocks on which to build better OSS tools. The report evaluates various technologies including cloud delivery, network virtualization, network security, Big Data, Machine Learning and Predictive Analytics, resource models, orchestration and automation, wireless sensor networks, IoT/ M2M, Self-organizing Networks (SON), software development models, and standards such as ITSM / ITIL.

This report is must-reading for anyone involved in planning or optimizing OSS as well as anyone with a vested interest in realizing positive financial returns from their OSS investment.

Companies in this Report:

  • ABB
  • Accenture PLC
  • Acme Packet
  • Aeris
  • Akamai
  • Alcatel Lucent S.A.
  • Amazon
  • Amdocs Inc.
  • Apache
  • Apple
  • AT&T
  • Big Machines
  • Black Ridge
  • BlueKai
  • BMC
  • Bosch
  • Brocade
  • BT Group
  • CA Technologies
  • Canonical
  • CENX
  • Certes
  • Ciena
  • Cisco
  • Clarity (part of Synchronoss)
  • Cloudera
  • CloudFoundry
  • Collective Intellect
  • Comptel
  • ConceptWave
  • Covisint Corporation
  • DataStax
  • Digi-Data (part of Synchronoss)
  • Docker
  • Embrane
  • EMC
  • Ericsson (Telefonaktiebolaget L. M. Ericsson)
  • European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI)
  • Fabrix
  • Facebook
  • Fastwire
  • F-Secure (part of Synchronoss)
  • GE
  • GenBand
  • Google
  • Guavus
  • Hewlett Packard Company
  • Hortonworks
  • Huawei
  • IBM Corporation
  • InfoVista
  • Intel
  • Intucell
  • Juniper Networks
  • Lightbridge Communications Corporation
  • Linux Foundation
  • LiveLOOK
  • Metacloud
  • MetraTech
  • Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF)
  • Microsoft
  • Mirror 42
  • Miyowa (part of Synchronoss)
  • Moogsoft
  • Neebula Systems
  • NetCracker Technology Corp. (part of NEC)
  • Nokia Networks
  • NTT Communications Corporation
  • Nuel (part of Huawei)
  • Open Networking Foundation (ONF)
  • OpNet
  • Optimi
  • Oracle Corporation
  • Pivotal
  • Riverbed
  • Samsung
  • SAS
  • Satyam
  • Sentilla
  • ServiceNow
  • SevOne
  • Siebel (part of Oracle)
  • Silver Peak
  • Spirent
  • Splunk
  • Strumsoft (part of Synchronoss)
  • Subex
  • Sunrise Technologies
  • Synchronoss Technologies
  • Tail-f
  • Tata Consultancy Services Limited
  • Tech Mahindra Limited
  • Telcocell
  • Telcordia (part of Ericsson)
  • TeleOSS
  • ThingWorx (part of PTC)
  • TimelessMIND
  • TM Forum
  • TOA Technologies
  • Truviso
  • UBIqube
  • Verizon
  • Voxmobili (part of Synchronoss)
  • WindRiver (part of Intel)
  • Wisor (part of Synchronoss)
  • Younited (part of Synchronoss)
  • Zenoss

The language of maps

In the consumer space, I’m very excited that the world is waking up to maps. There’s this natural affinity to maps. Why is that? My theory is that maps are a kind of language. We have text language, we have music as a language, we have mathematical languages, we have software languages. Maps are a language. And their power is that they communicate intuitively to people. You can look at a map, and, Ah! You can see context as well as content. … Whether it’s a law enforcement situation, or a social situation, or whatever. And you also see the content of the actual phenomena that’s occurring.”
Jack Dangermond
(founder of ESRI) here.

Jack Dangermond’s passion for maps comes through loud and clear in this quote above doesn’t it?

I believe that OSS also speaks in the language of maps across a range of different conversations that include:

  • Network and capacity planning
  • Service, usage and asset visualisation
  • Network health and contingency planning
  • Field-workforce management, construction and service delivery
  • Sales and marketing
  • Customer care

Do you use maps extensively to tell your OSS story? If so, I’d love to hear the use cases that provide the greatest insights at your organisation

The death of fibre

It turns out that all Netflix streaming peak on Saturday night can fit inside a single fiber optic, which is the size of one human hair.”
Reed Hastings

Whilst futurists talk about advances in wireless technology being the death of fibre, higher volumes of wireless traffic equals a larger number of fibre backhaul points… for the foreseeable future at least. As we go to microcells, nanocells, picocells, femtocells covering smaller areas to satiate the demand for wireless bandwidth, all that traffic still needs to get back to the service providers distribution/core networks. As cell sizes get smaller, more optical fibre cables are likely to be rolled out.

Similarly, as mobile technology improves (ie GSM to 3G to 4G, etc), the cells are capable of carry larger network bandwidths, necessitating higher bandwidth backhaul pipes, which again implies more fibre.

Reductions in truck rolls are also flagged as being a benefit of Network virtualisation, which is probably safe to claim, but the touchpoint explosion is likely to mean bigger-bandwidth pipes (yes, you guessed it, more fibre).

Whilst the access / edge parts of the fixed network might be being overrun by wireless, clearly fibre networks are still being rolled out.

How does this relate to OSS? Well, it’s just one more reason why wireless and network virtualisation are less likely to disrupt geospatial / physical infrastructure OSS tools than all other segments of the OSS market.

Batched or chained?

A single twig breaks, but the bundle of twigs is strong.”

I have an interesting dilemma to pose for you today.

Let’s say you have a migration to undertake that involves your field work-force. The migration requires the re-direction of customer services from one destination to a new destination via re-patching at various points in the physical network spread across a wide geographical area.

Your OSS processes the migration (from an inventory perspective) as automated designs on a customer-by-customer or order-by-order basis because it’s the only way that it can trace out each new path. This means that a given patching/jumpering point may actually have many customer services traversing it without necessarily needing to be completely re-jumpered.

The question becomes whether you:

  1. Issue work orders to your field workforce on a service-by-service basis to ensure that end-to-end (chained) connectivity is ensured by giving a singular accountability for reactivation of the new service; or
  2. Issue batches of work orders for re-patching an entire patching point in one hit, thus reducing the amount of travel time and improving efficiency of effort, but having multiple workers involved in different parts of the end-to-end service

The same question could equally be posed for automated system tasks. Do you issue provisioning commands in a batch or do you design your process around completing and guaranteeing successful completion of each order in sequence?

Do your workforce management tools have the flexibility of automatically choosing between the batched or chained approach to assigning work orders? If so, which option have you found to be the most efficient and why?

Immunity from the disruption of virtualisation

Undermine their pompous authority, reject their moral standards, make anarchy and disorder your trademarks. Cause as much chaos and disruption as possible but don’t let them take you ALIVE.”
Sid Vicious

In many previous posts (including “A new category of OSS“), I’ve pondered how network virtualisation will disrupt the status-quo within OSS.

If, in the likely event that network virtualisation frameworks such as SDN / NFV gain a significant foot-hold in the global networking market, which segments of the OSS market are most likely to be disrupted and which are likely to remain relatively unscathed?

The physical layer will still be needed within a virtualised world (unless wireless technologies proliferate on big bandwidth pipes and backhaul). Sure, virtualisation should reduce the amount of truck rolls and additional cabling, but we will still need outside plant (cables, pits, ducts, sub-ducts, etc) to carry our virtualised networking traffic around.* Notwithstanding the potential for the outside plant (OSP) demarcation point to change and topology changes, I imagine that OSP / GIS types of OSS tools are minimally impacted by network virtualisation. The same is probably true of FWF (Field Workforce) tools although activities conducted by the field workers are likely to be impacted.

On face-value, real-time tools such as alarm/event management and performance management shouldn’t really be significantly impacted by virtual networks. They’ll still receive events and metrics from physical and virtual networks just like they do today, so they will retain the ability to do that and provide event/metric handling processes. Where virtualisation impacts these types of tools is in volumes. Network virtualisation and IoT are likely to deliver a touch-point explosion that is also likely to deliver rapid growth in the number of events/metrics being received by these real-time tools. They will no longer be able to be processed by humans at scale, so machine learning algorithms and predictive analytics are likely to disrupt existing real-time products.

Almost every other conceivable part of the application map (TM Forum’s TAM) is likely to be disrupted:

  • Market / Sales management – markets will undergo significant shifts
  • Product / Catalog management – product suites will undergo significant shifts
  • Customer, service and resource management  – will become far more real-time and automated in nature to cope with transient resource usage patterns
  • Supplier / partner management – the speed of change will necessitate far more partnership-based XaaS service models rather than monolithic service offerings
  • Enterprise management –  management of fraud, revenue assurance, regulatory, security, etc are all likely to be dramatically effected by virtual network proliferation
  • Application and infrastructure management – drastic changes are already presenting via the number of niche tools that are springing up to deliver the ideal of automated service/network management

* Whilst futurists talk about wireless technology advances being the death of fibre, higher volumes of wireless traffic equals a larger number of fibre backhaul points… for the foreseeable future at least.

Hazards in your environment

Our technological powers increase, but the side effects and potential hazards also escalate.”
Alvin Toffler

One of the many user groups touched by an OSS (directly or indirectly) is the field work-force. The field work-force have to deal with hazards that most of us desk-jockeys don’t come into contact with. Confined spaces, hazardous materials (eg gas, asbestos, etc), working at heights and other similar hazards aren’t always top of mind for people working on OSS platforms.

Whilst I haven’t seen this implemented by any of my past customers, I’m sure some organisations do use their OSS to record hazard notes to be able to identify them in the work packages that are issued to field workers. This would allow field workers to visit sites with the appropriate equipment to handle hazardous environments. In addition, the OSS could perform skills-based routing of tasks to field workers who have the appropriate certifications to work in each type of hazardous environment.

Whilst there would be many ways for an OSS to deliver such functionality, it seems logical that the GIS (Geographical Information Systems) that underpin many OSS (especially inventory platforms) could easily be adapted to record and present hazard notes.

Have you heard of any organisation that uses this type of functionality already? Would it actually enhance operations or do organisations have other simpler methods of hazard risk mitigation?

3D cellular modelling

* Traffic from wireless and mobile devices will exceed traffic from wired devices by 2016.
* Global IP traffic has increased fivefold over the past 5 years, and will increase threefold over the next 5years.
* Busy-hour (or the busiest 60?minute period in a day) Internet traffic increased 32 percent in 2013, compared with 25 percent growth in average traffic.

Statistics from Cisco’s Visual Networking Index (VNI) 2013-2018.

By any of the measures listed above, it’s clear that wireless and mobile devices will consume an ever greater amount of data globally in coming years. This puts pressure on network designers to come up with clever ways to cope, particularly with data density in highly populated areas like central business districts (CBD) and data distribution across broad rural fringe areas.

Some very clever OSS have found ways to model the three-dimensional complexity of radio wave propagation within a varying landscapes, terrains, building and vegetation patterns.
This series of articles from the InfoVista blog reveal some helpful hints to planning your wireless and mobile networks with 3D mapping and coverage tools:

  1. Why 3D Maps are Vital for Small Cell Backhaul Network Planning in Urban Areas
  2. Automate, Collaborate, Empower – Maximizing the RAN’s Value Through Coverage Maps
  3. Using Coverage Maps to Improve Customer Care
  4. Empowering RF Engineers by Automating Coverage Map Generation

OSS conflation

Conflation occurs when the identities of two or more individuals, concepts, or places, sharing some characteristics of one another, seem to be a single identity — the differences appear to become lost. In logic, it is the practice of treating two distinct concepts as if they were one, which produces errors or misunderstandings as a fusion of distinct subjects tends to obscure analysis of relationships which are emphasized by contrasts.”

Conflation is an interesting concept for OSS data migration / creation / cleansing teams.

According to Alan Witmer, there are five steps to the conflation process.

  • Prepare the databases for conflation processing. Analyze the incoming data’s quality and usability, and convert as necessary to a common format.
  • Build similar (congruous) representations of a select group of features from each data set.
  • Matching – identify common elements (also called correlation).
  • Improve the database by performing some action on those identified matches. This includes generating reports, merging selected attribute and spatial information from one database into the other, or perhaps creating a third database with selected elements and attributes of the original two.
  • Perform final QC suites to verify both the quality and completeness of the data transfer.

Alan has also prepared some helpful suggestions for performing these five steps in the link above.

This link from ConfleX also provides a neat description of conflation on spatial data sets.

Helix factors, cable sag factors and more

In fiber optics, the cable is a light pipe or waveguide, into which you inject light. If a finger presses on the pipe, it disrupts that light within the waveguide.”
Jefferson Han

And if a finger pressing on the fibre can disrupt the light signal, imagine what a backhoe can do to an optical fibre cable! As a humourous aside, you may like to read Fred Lawler’s “The 10 Most Bizarre and Annoying Causes of Fiber Cuts.”

Anyway, back to the blog. If you’re sitting in a Network Operations Centre (NOC) and you suddenly lose an intercapital link or two, you’re going to want to get to the root-cause of the problem pretty quickly. Assuming the optics are still functioning correctly and nobody is performing adds/moves/changes to patching in associated equipment rooms, there’s a fairly big chance that there has been a cable cut. But on an intercapital link, the cable could be hundreds of kilometres long, so how do you determine where to send the repair crews?

This is where spatial tools allow your OSS to provide an answer. OTDRs (Optical Time Domain Reflectometers) are able to send a light-pulse down an optical fibre to determine how far along the fibre that the cut has occurred. Let’s say that the break is at 34.6km from the patch panel that the OTDR is plugged into. This is helpful information, but two other factors will help you to identify the location more accurately.

If your OSS has a GIS that shows the exact cable route, then it is likely that it can also run a trace to estimate the GPS coordinates where the cable is broken.

You may think that if you trace the cable out to 34.6km then you’ll have the correct location. Unfortunately, you could be out by hundreds of metres because the cable / sheath length (as indicated on the GIS) and the fibre strand inside that cable (as measured by the OTDR) aren’t identical. Since the fibre strands coil around inside the cable, the fibre lengths are actually slightly longer than the cable lengths.

This difference in length is partly attributable to the helix factor. The helix factor is unique to each manufacturer / model of cable but is usually around 1-2% (see the manufacturer’s cable specs for actual values). Your OSS should have the ability to assign this factor as an attribute of each cable in your network and then consider it when tracing a route.

So assuming a helix factor of 2%, and a break at 34.6km of fibre length, then the cable sheath length will be 33.9km from the patch panel that the OTDR is measuring from. Your OSS / GIS will then show you the exact address where your repair crew can go to find the offending backhoe.

NOTE 1: Your OSS / GIS should also attempt to factor in real cable lengths, including things such as cable loops in pits (slack loops) and cable sag factors (for aerial cables) to determine the sheath length, not just geographic distances.

NOTE 2: Interestingly, larger core-count cables can actually have different helix factors depending on whether the buffer tubes are wound as the inner or outer rows inside the sheath, but I haven’t seen an OSS capable of differentiating for this yet. I guess your repair team will be able to spot the backhoe from a couple of hundred meters away from where the OSS / GIS has sent them anyway. 🙂

NOTE 3: There are a few other tricks for finding cable faults when above ground disturbance (ie backhoe) isn’t apparent, but that’s another story for another day and isn’t really in the realm of OSS anyway.

NOTE 4: Because of the various factors above that separate optical distance from sheath geo-position, it can make more sense to take the OTDR distance from the nearest even (eg splice or patch) and estimate geo from there, especially over very long spans.

NOTE 5: The Index of Refraction (IoR) impacts distance calculations too but it’s assumed the OTDR considers this before handing off the optical length to our OSS.

Data visualisation 5 – GIS

Spatial analysis is how we understand our world—mapping where things are, how they relate, what it all means, and what actions to take. From computational analysis of geographic patterns to finding optimum routes, site selection, and advanced predictive modeling, spatial analysis is at the very heart of geographic information system (GIS) technology..”

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are a invaluable platform for OSS developers to visualise data on. Many GIS can even portray the three dimensions that we interact with every day, namely height, width and depth.

When it comes to presentation of visual data, GIS are able to display data patterns with a spatial context, including:

  • Geographic maps (eg routes and locations of outside plant networks)
  • Cartographic maps (eg showing overlays of where potential demographic distributions are)
  • Dot distribution maps (eg exact locations of where customers are)
  • Contour / Topographical maps (eg showing land, building and potentially even vegetation terrain contours that may impact line of sight or radio / cellular signal propagation)
  • Proportional symbol maps (eg showing the number of alarms, customers, bandwidth utilisation, bandwidth availability, etc at a given location)
  • Other thematic maps (eg heat maps showing high prevalence, such as regions of higher market penetration, plus the closely related cool maps that could show regions where penetration is statistically much lower than surrounding areas)

Whilst it’s possible to generate all of these maps via other means, the great features of GIS are their ability to cross-reference any number of other attributes to visualised objects as well as showing real-time updates (if needed).

Attributes could include object-by-object drill-down from a cable map into specific details such as:

  • Cable identifier
  • Cable types
  • Impacted customers (ie customers traversing that specific cable)
  • Service types supported
  • Utilised or available capacity on the link
  • Ownership model (eg owned, leased, etc)
  • Cost / expense / depreciation models
  • Maintainer’s contact details
  • Route tracing to show circuits beyond this cable link
  • Predictive analysis (eg when capacity is likely to be fully utilised on this link)

As we’ve discussed recently, there are even augmented reality (AR) tools that allow these various data visualisation techniques to be overlaid onto what we see before us.

Angela Zoss has prepared this interesting review of visualisation types on the Duke University website that might provide further thoughts on how to visualise OSS data. This link on Wikipedia shows some other interesting examples of thematic maps. This link from Esri provides some helpful guidance on understanding spatial relationships and patterns.