Geodesign Process to Improve Broadband Coverage

Because broadband impacts so many aspects of life (such as education, job searching, and healthcare), communities recognize the importance of having fast and reliable broadband with extensive coverage. With this growing need for broadband, many communities seek to improve their citizens’ broadband experience  by adding or improving  broadband infrastructure.  In order to help communities in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Center for Geospatial Information Technology (CGIT) has developed the Broadband Planning and Analysis Toolbox, which provides speed tests, coverage maps, information on local broadband policies, and vertical asset information to users. Our recent partnerships with Frederick, King William, and Northampton Counties gave us the opportunity to demonstrate how our tools can be used in the geodesign process to develop methods for conducting cost estimation research and tower placement analysis with a geospatial perspective.

Figure 1: Flow chart of geodesign process for broadband planning

The geodesign process (Figure 1) involves running data through an iterative process, allowing for more in-depth study of the results and more feedback from clients. CGIT applied this process for broadband tower configuration to assist counties in Commonwealth of Virginia in broadband infrastructure planning using parameters specific to each county’s needs. Our first step involves improving our data and tools by removing duplicate and nonfunctional towers from our Vertical Assets Inventory Tool and updating the policies available in our Integrated Broadband Planning and Analysis Toolbox. This is accomplished by working closely with the localities themselves to obtain truth data. For our next step, we assess the needs of the county through the line of sight coverage analysis. This initial analysis uses existing assets (e.g., barns, silos, water towers, etc.) from the Vertical Assets Inventory Tool to perform Radio Frequency (RF) propagation model simulation. Propagation models are produced using a number of variables such as antenna configuration, signal strength, number of towers, and terrain. The results are then used in subsequent steps to maximize coverage area.

Figure 2: RF propagation study for King William County, VA

For our third task, we compare the line of sight’s results with the county’s requirements, existing and projected populations, and the location of community anchor institutions (such as schools, hospitals, and public safety centers) in order to assess underserved area in broadband coverage. Once gaps are identified with the help of the county, radio frequency propagation estimations (Figure 2) were generated to visualize the best tower configuration for the maximum amount of coverage in the locality. This part of the geodesign process allows for continual revision and refining of our analysis, preparing us for our final assessment. Finally, we assess the results of a number of simulations with the county’s needs to modify the propagation estimates or incorporate other datasets to optimize gap coverage and implementation costs to best meet the county’s  needs. The geodesign process of continual revision allows CGIT to experiment with different parameters and tower placement scenarios and provides an opportunity for the county to provide feedback. As the county provides assessment along each step of the process and evaluates our tools , we are able to fine-tune our models, use data better suited to their needs, and greatly improve our results. This is invaluable for the final analysis and recommendation as it gives the locality greater input on the product generated and allows us to improve tools and update parameters as necessary.

Figure 3: Existing and proposed fiber for Frederick County, VA

Thanks to the iteration that is a part of the  geodesign process, CGIT was able to deliver a more comprehensive  report that included maps, recommended solutions, and best practices concerning infrastructure and broadband planning policies.

CGIT supports the commonwealth of Virginia in broadband planning decision-making  process by connecting the communities to various intellectual resources such as the Center for Innovative Technology, and the Office for Telework Promotion and Broadband Assistance, and broadband funding opportunities in addition to providing the Broadband Toolbox and experience with geodesign. By partnering with local governments and institutions, we are able to take our research and apply it in real situations to optimize asset placement and gain a deeper understanding of current and future coverage demands.