Technical Paper 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

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

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

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

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

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
  • Improve repairs to the network through the provision of visual aids on fault
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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,

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.