ICTs are potentially important policy tools and their role is increasingly moving to the core of national competitiveness strategies around the world due to its revolutionary power as a critical enabler of growth and modernization. As a result, many emerging economies have initiated projects with the aim of increasing universal access to communications; one such nation is Kenya. Indeed, Kofi Annan rightly observes; “ICTs can give developing countries the chance to leapfrog some of the long and painful stages of development that other countries have had to go through”. In this regard, Kenya recently drafted a national ICT policy and with the advent of broadband Internet, the country now faces nothing but the challenge of converting the infrastructure into a catalyst for sustainable growth for all.
Over time, we’ve witnessed and supported 2G and 3G+ network deployments in Kenya and around the world. In developed nations, using simulation tools in conjunction with accurate geodata, the advanced wireless networks have been planned, built and optimized for the populace to derive optimal benefits. Historically, ICT service providers in developed nations used 2D medium resolution data of around 20-50meters to plan 2G and 3G networks. Some acquired higher resolution GIS data for urban areas in support of ray tracing models and transmission planning. However, in the past year the technology has “abandoned owner’s manual” and the world has witnessed a dramatic increase in the acquisition of 3D Geo Information Systems and products.
Kenyan operators are now deploying and some in advanced stages of deploying HSPA and WiMAX networks. For a number of reasons, Communication Commission of Kenya anticipates more than threefold increase in demand for data services this year with 3G+ and 4G networks. With the proliferation of smart phones and location-based services, operators are hoping that data ARPU–average revenue per user–will continue its rise and replace commoditized voice revenue. Cisco’s recent Visual Networking Index (VNI) Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast provides comfort to network operators in the East African region. It predicts that mobile data traffic will double every year from 2011-2014 at an annual compound growth rate of 108% . This doesn’t take into account the arrival of telepresence technology in town. Of course, while an operator’s data and subscriber ARPU are figures closely watched by analysts and investors, so is its churn rate. With the increased data traffic delivered through smart phones and more bandwidth-intensive applications, operators will start experiencing capacity issues on their networks. For optimal network resource allocation taking into consideration mathematical and logical market models in Kenya, there exist a justification for operators to invest in high resolution 3D GIS data.
The Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) indicated that there are 59 operators committed to LTE network deployments in 28 countries in the February 2010 update of its Evolution to LTE Report. While 4G network that some operators are already testing in East Africa promise to be more spectrally efficient, many operators are planning to target a series of non-traditional verticals and M2M (machine-to-machine) communications. The need for proactive simulation-based planning and optimization besides targeted market positioning have arguably never been greater for existing these advanced networks . A series of factors therefore contribute to propel the demand for 3D geodata to be used for wireless network planning and market prospecting:-
• Increasing amounts of high-resolution satellite imagery, that is, sub 0.5m – a key input to the development of 3D models – is available today given improvements in the amount of data that satellites can capture.
• RF planning tools are able to take advantage of computer hardware improvements and related processing power to utilize higher resolution 3D GIS data.
• Propagation models have become increasingly sophisticated to deterministically model both vertical and horizontal planes in urban environments and consider diffraction, reflection and canyoning effects are already in the East African markets.
• Increasing network densification: – inter-site distances that were once 500m to 1 km are now as close as 200-300m. LTE in many countries in Europe and Middle East can be deployed at 2.6 GHz which can also limit inter-site distance. To support the capacity required and accurately model microcell environments operators need very precise 3D GIS data.
• Operators can no longer simply plan for street level as customers expect their wireless device to work indoors. Customer live inside the houses hence need for operators to even design their networks for multiple receiver heights.
In addition, in generating a city model, as most 3D GIS requirements focus on the major population centers, begins with sourcing the latest GIS compatible satellite imagery for instance the American Oak Ridge National Laboratory produced Landscan population data. Image processing is then done using block adjustment and setting up of stereo models. Most satellite imagery provides carry out terrain extraction including mass points, break lines, bridges and overpasses. Thereafter, feature extraction of man-made features. This is then orthocorrected and mosaicked to extract clutter classes. This data conversion and quality assurance is exactly what is needed for market planning and radio planning in wireless industry as these are the unique challenges that RF and performance engineers are facing as they plan and optimize their networks. Fundamentally, they require the most accurate representation of their network so that improvements achieved in simulation will be realized once implemented. This is a support, in efforts to optimize “last generation networks” can also be applied to existing 2D planned networks to migrate to 3D data to strategically launch their next generation wireless networks.
It is evident that in planning an advanced network, an operator’s requirements for 3D GIS data diverge dramatically if they have an existing network or are a new entrant starting up their operations. A business venture contemplating a network rollout and related spectrum purchases may choose to buy countrywide data at a lower resolution, that is, a regionally planned data. Once the business case has been proven, this same operator may update clutter for early targeted areas , that is, population market centers and conveniently migrate to a country level 3D data set. This is because it will be noted that RF planning for urban areas, where people expect indoor and outdoor smart phone data services, requires the use of higher resolution 3D data. This sub-meter resolution data lets the RF engineer use advanced RF prediction models designed to model propagation phenomena in the vertical and horizontal planes — something impossible to do using traditional 2D data. This would be the convenient one for Kenyan operators deploying HSPA+ and EVDO networks. Though some of these operators are in the optimization phase of their networks, most can conveniently migrate at some point to the more spectrally efficient LTE standard using the higher resolution 3D data.
It is also important to note that wireless operators building out their networks require geodata based on the latest vintage data. A simulation-based planning requires geodata that accurately reproduces the physical environment. If not, the resulting RF plans will not operate as expected after implementation. Using a single geodata supplier helps ensure that satellite clutter classes — a favorite subscriber segmentation tool for RF engineers — and this aids in remaining consistent. It also lets an operator’s engineering team confidently apply the same assumptions across their entire network as it expands and evolves in rural and far flung counties. Of course, there are also GIS based remotely sensed “Change Detection” data; this can be for the needs of the mature 3G network operator undertaking network densification exercises to support wireless data proliferation. The change detection remotely sensed data lets an operator assess what parts of their geodata are “stale” and upgrade only those areas. With some industry observers predicting up to 10x more base stations to serve future wireless data needs based on LTE technology, inter-site distances are expected to diminish. To avoid interference and operate these dense networks, exceptionally accurate and recent 3D geodata comes in handy.
While the LTE standard includes the concept of self-optimizing networks, it is likely that planning and optimization processes improved in 3G+ network deployments in Kenya will be employed until software applications and vendor systems can support “plug-and-play” base station deployment. 3D GIS data will continue to have a strong role to play in this environment, likely in the cloud, and this should be a strategic focus for mobile telecommunication service providers in East Africa.
In Kenya, we have witnessed the 2G and 3G network lifecycles and for sure GIS data products have evolved, computer hardware has progressed and RF planning software has improved to take advantage of increased processing power. Now, as these networks start to deploy, latest-vintage high-resolution imagery will come in handy for the benefit of experience and this will greatly help operator’s technology and market strategists navigate organization’s geodata requirements through the lifecycle of the network. It is expected that these advanced networks will surely drive geodata demand for the telecom sector for the foreseeable future and a distinct purchasing trend tied to the LTE network lifecycle is anticipate.
Kennedy Okong’o is a GeoMarketing Consultant in Telecommunication Sector in Africa and Middle East