ICUK's infrastructure mapping tool sets a new course

The first version of a mapping tool that enables its users to locate and fully understand the carrier infrastructure serving specific locations has been launched by ICUK. The service is designed to help partners improve the planning of their infrastructure projects and anticipate potential delivery issues ahead of agreements being made with customers.

In its first phase the application gives ICUK partners useful data at their fingertips on Openreach's ducts and fibre installations.

This gives partners a clear view of the existing infrastructure, whether in situ or in planning, along with the available capacities (plus other useful data), all of which enables resellers to make the most coordinated and appropriate decisions when proposing leased line solutions (or the like) to customers.

In developing the service ICUK plotted Openreach's infrastructure chart onto Google maps and then created imaged representations via satellite and street views with graphical markers, bringing a new visual dimension to the data. "You can now stroll down a road virtually and make sense of street infrastructure and existing fibre installations," stated ICUK Director Paul Barnett (pictured).

According to Barnett another of the cast-iron advantages that Openreach Infrastructure Maps gives partners is an ability to demonstrate to customers deep knowledge of the local infrastructure and explain the implications of this data on project planning and delivery. "Armed with this tool the sales conversation isn't just about the benefits of a technology and its price," stated Barnett. "Partners are empowered by their ability to instil confidence in their customers by showing that they truly understand the product and are able to provide fair warning of potential challenges.

"The multiple technologies and carriers plotted on our maps will form the crux of initial conversations with companies wanting to improve their broadband speeds or resilience. This moves the sales discussion away from price, and allows sales people to up-sell resilience and differentiate by talking intelligently about the options."

The reality is that until now it has been difficult to correctly predict delivery timescales and make proper evaluations on whether an installation will be problematical, but trials of ICUK's infrastructure mapping service have for the first time introduced a new level of certainty to leased line quoting and delivery experiences, according to Barnett.

"The detailed data we give to partners is far superior to the traditional unspecific approach of saying to customers that ‘delivery will be within 45-90 days', which leaves provisioning teams to deal with the fact that such time scales are generic and sometimes unachievable," added Barnett. "Current quoting processes for leased lines offer no visibility into the local infrastructure. Nor do they give insights into how tricky an installation may be."

To help partners get a firm grasp of Openreach's local infrastructure, ICUK's new application pinpoints ducts and their precise points of entry into buildings. "Duct visibility is helpful because it confirms that infrastructure is in place and that an access point is available," explained Barnett. "On the other hand, a postcode may be recognised but in reality the customer location could be under construction or newly built. Being able to understand scenarios such as this enables partners to alert customers about possible difficulties.

"Likewise, for diverse requirements we are able to determine whether there are logical exit points. Furthermore, we can locate fibre nodes nearby which may be in the street infrastructure - underground fibre pits for example - or existing installations in buildings or street furniture."

Barnett noted that knowledge of existing fibre into a premises (or nearby) significantly reduces the possibility of excess construction charges, while also flagging up the challenges or potential delays that may have a negative impact on an installation. To gain early insights into such cases, ICUK has access to Openreach's category classification for addresses, which is an assessment of how tricky certain locations might be to service.

The basis for ICUK's mapping tool is not a new idea, others exist, but Barnett says the firm's innovation has overcome the limitations of its predecessors - and is a fast-track to a new age of infrastructure mapping. "The drawbacks common to current offerings, which plot against Ordnance Survey maps, include not always being up-to-date, a lack of company names, and no zoom facility to properly assess duct entry points into a building," explained Barnett. "Visualising Ordnance Survey maps isn't as intuitive as Google Maps, and there are no satellite or street view options, nor the ability to extend search results.

"Converting the format of data used in Ordnance Survey maps to work with Google was a challenge. But our effort was worthwhile. Satellite views are helpful, especially in challenging or new-build locations. You can also get an idea of the geographical considerations which standard maps fail to show. And by simply repositioning the pin we can extend the search without losing the original data set. All this is a snapshot of what this tool will ultimately deliver over the long-term."

Barnett wants more mapping capacity and his plan is to steadily build up the service by adding more data about carrier infrastructure. One near-term possibility is to overlay Openreach and Virgin data. "Full knowledge about fibre which is nearby or in the same building can help to determine price as well as which carrier is selected," added Barnett.

Nor is that all. The service could extend beyond fibre to plot wireless carriers and their radial coverage (subject to line of sight). Why stop there? Introduce mobile carriers into the mix and determining the best 4G coverage becomes a piece of cake, making the choice of provider for back-up or pre-Ethernet services just as easy. "We could even get to a point where we show coverage based on the direction of an aerial," stated Barnett.

"Our vision is to maximise the potential of the Big Data at our disposal, and Openreach Infrastructure Maps is just the beginning. We're arming our resellers with true visibility of potential solutions, options and challenges, all as part of ICUK's quoting and provisioning experience. Our integration with Openreach is the first step-change as we look to overlay other carrier and technology data, extending beyond leased lines into all of our current and future services."