Sparkman Firm Gets Mapping

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Broadband Services Inc. will introduce MapVantage — billed as an intelligent mapping, network asset-management and data-storage solution for cable — at next month's Society of Cable Television Engineers conference.

The goal of MapVantage is to take information that cable operators possess within various databases and information points, and integrate it with a physical map of their system. It would allow any authorized system employee — whether in engineering, operations, customer service, marketing or finance — to get a view of the technical, operational and marketing scope of their cable systems as viewed from 50,000 feet.

The software's financial model is based on an open architecture approach where MSOs pay maintenance fees based on how much information they pour into the database, said Don Bishop, BSI's senior vice president of professional services.

That's more cost-effective than today's model, in which MSOs pay up-front license fees for software modules from various vendors, and are then tied to constant, costly software upgrades, he said.

"We take the licensed-software model and turn it into a managed-software model," Bishop said. "We charge for the ongoing maintenance."

MapVantage is based on Geographic Information System software designed by BSI, which generates system maps with data overlays.

Instead of discarding map construction work once a rebuild is complete, "you let the investment live on in the database," said BSI chief technology officer Andy Paff.

MARKETING EDGE

For instance, an engineer can look at map information on fiber wavelengths, fiber drops or usage patterns for Internet-protocol and MPEG-2 (Moving Picture Expert Group) video-on-demand traffic.

Marketers could tap into the same database and see maps that depict where one, two or three-service (voice, video and data) homes are located. Finance executives could look at maps and determine where capital-expenditure deployments can be amortized.

The MapVantage software allows operators flexibility in entering database fields, Bishop said.

"Every object can have any number of database fields," he said.

Bishop emphasized MapVantage's open architecture. "Whoever needs it gets the code book," he said.

The idea of tying mapping information to an MSO's various databases is a new one for operators, said Pfaff. As MSOs roll out complex tiered-data services and more-complicated VOD and interactive products, "it's important to know where your network assets are," he said.

Currently, billing-system database information may not sync up with information about physical assets, unless an operator incurs costly and time consuming integration efforts.

With much of today's technology, "you can't see certain parts in relationship to other parts of the network," Paff said. New applications such as Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification provisioning, Internet-protocol bandwidth management and VOD network-asset management are tailor-made for MapVantage, Paff said.

In addition to software, BSI has its own data-storage facility at a UUNET operation in Denver. That information also can be stored on a local MSO's LAN.

The MapVantage move is a departure from BSI's traditional business. Several years ago, it had purchased distribution company ICS Inc., and it's also added some network-design companies to its portfolio.

Revenues for Denver-based BSI totaled $280 million last year. Its chairman is former Tele-Communications Inc. executive J.C. Sparkman.

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