When it comes to mapping and what we call a geographic information system (GIS) or location services, over the past few years, businesses, services providers in telecoms, and every industry really, have started to gravitate toward using maps in their business.
“There’s a massive prevalence of maps and location-based services in everyday consumer apps. You can’t download an app, open it up and not have some sort of map there,” said Patrick Huls, Technical Evangelist at GIS software provider Esri.
Huls has been working with TM Forum and a number of other industry players to build and standardize the Geographic Location Management Open API which provides geographic region information, such as longitude and latitude, of entities (customers, equipment, addresses).
“My involvement with building these APIs was to provide some best practice guidance on standardizing location information; helping to provide those necessary parameters or standards to define geographic information.”
In this interview, Huls shares some more about the API and his involvement in the process.
JOB: Do you think there’s good value in building this kind of API?
PH: I think people see the value in the map visualization, in routing and in geographic analysis, and want to apply that into their business.
There’s definitely been uptake in the need to have maps and geographic information more readily available in a business and doing something with it. TM Forum has seen that, the members have seen that, and a lot of the catalyst projects this year have highlighted the value of having location capabilities.
One example is the Smart Life Catalyst that was focused around IoT and automation. Services based around autonomous driving vehicles or connected cars for example, or detecting a person’s location as they’re either leaving or coming back to their house via a geofence, and turning their home security on or off.
As far as a set of location standards or APIs for the telecoms industry is concerned, TM Forum is definitely the first organization to have an initiative that puts some of those resources together.
JOB: How much take up do you think the Geographic Location Management API will see?
PH: The sky’s the limit really. There’s a ton of use cases for geographic information. Everything has a location on this earth. From the service provider perspective, you’ve got network assets and the physical location of where towers are, where fiber cables are, where poles are that are attached to fiber cables. You’ve got customers and their addresses, where they are on this earth, and then the relationship between those things. So, for example, where customers are in relation to where there is network or even any provider competition in that area. Automation is the key thing here really (and in a lot of out of the Forum’s API projects).
One great example in terms of this specific API is in the serviceability. When you call a service provider to say, “I want to see if I can get internet service either at my business or in my home,” there’s usually a chain of verification. If you’re in the database, and it’s clean, and you’re serviceable then everything usually goes smoothly.
But, if you’re not in that database, your information usually gets passed to an engineering team who then goes out to assess: Does the provider have fiber assets? Can they connect this customer? Do they need they build new lines of business in the area?
All of these questions need to be answered before that customer can be qualified. Whereas, if the provider had the location of their assets, or the boundary of a service area, and they have the location of the customer, they can have the software automate a lot of those processes where they type in an address, the geocode passes the customer’s coordinates into another system that carries out that service qualification and checks to see where the customer is and if they’re close enough.
So this really circles back to when we were discussing the value of the Location API. Standardizing the passing of that geographic information means faster analysis. It can really automate a lot of these geographical based problems that take up a lot of resource and time.
JOB: What are the next steps for this API? Do you have plans to refine it further?
PH: Yes definitely. The next steps are to expand on this set of location APIs, and really shout about this API and that it exists and demonstrate the value of it by building up the use cases.
In terms of expanding on the API, right now we want to standardize the geographic information patterns, and then next we want to standardize some of that basic spatial analysis processes and get them into the API for the more complication location analysis.
It can potentially become a complex set of APIs because the great wide world we live in. Lots of different types of use cases, lots of different types of locations.
What we’ve been seeing is that these standards are starting to be applied to other APIs within the TM Forum stack. So there was originally the addressing and billing API that needs an address, which is technically a geographic location. Now, where these API are embedded, users want to also have the latitude and longitude of that address, or be able to geocode an address so that mapping software can actually put it at a location on the Earth base on those coordinates.
It’s interesting to see how the different APIs are able to adopt or take some of this information, and append it to the existing API so that it passes on this standardized set of geographic information.
JOB: Will you or Esri be making use of the API yourselves?
PH: Yeah, the API being released is very aligned with our own open standards, so a lot of that subject matter expertise from Esri has gone into supporting this.
I look forward to seeing how it goes and seeing how people, including ourselves apply the API. I’ve got that passion for GIS and location, and I really hope to see how the wheels start to turn in terms of different ways of passing geographical info between different systems, visualizing it and doing something great with that information to really help the telecommunications industry.
I’m certain we’re going to see a lot of this, especially with increasing IoT development, and particularly with there being so many more sensors and physical devices out there. I think as far as GIS and location and mapping are concerned, it’s only going to increase the value of those things.