New digital

wireless services

may soon challenge

conventional

cellular phone

systems. GIS is

being employed to

help analyze coverage

trouble spots.

The all-digital personal communication services (PCS) are poised to leapfrog cellular phone technology. First introduced in 1995 in the Washington, D.C., area, PCS, with their encrypted voice capability, superior performance and greater versatility, became an instant hit with the beltway crowd. Although the present cost of digital handsets is considerably higher than their cellular cousins, there is little doubt that digital communication is the next generation of wireless technology .

Last July, BellSouth Mobility DCS (BSMDCS) took the lead in offering all-digital PCS in North Carolina, South Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. Services include built-in digital paging, voice messaging, call hold, call waiting and forwarding, and a high degree of security.

To assist in handling customer service calls, and analyzing trends and trouble spots in the new coverage areas, BSMDCS developed its own Trouble Tracking System (TTS), a proprietary software application using MapInfo technology. "We developed the system," said Systems Analyst Bruce Winters, "to help us better record and track problems customers may experience with our new wireless PCS services. We can either resolve the problem quickly or capture data for trend analysis. The TTS allows us to do this in realtime."

According to Winters, the TTS has two separate applications, both talk to a single Oracle database. The administrative application is written in the same programming language as the billing system to make better use of existing resources, and is used for collecting and recording data from customers, generating reports and providing an avenue for follow-up. The application is used primarily by customer service, finance and other administrative departments. The technical engineering and analysis application is written in MapBasic, and is used for mapping customer service tickets that have a geographic component. It is also used for analysis, visualizing ticket relationships and evaluating problem trends. Core users are technical engineers and others who need geographically related information rather than textual reports.

Winters pointed out that BSMDCS developed the administrative application with ease of use and training in mind. "The application was designed to work with our billing system, so that the TTS could not only be launched by the system but use some of its data to provide customer service representatives (CSR) with the information they need, without having to re-key data."

REALTIME PROCESSING

When the CSR begins a new "ticket," the application brings up various panels on the screen, depending on the type of problem entered. For technical problems, the CSR asks the customer for the nearest address, intersection, or landmark where the problem occurred and enters that into the ticket. The application obtains the latitude and longitude of the location by calling a geocoder and storing the data with the ticket in the database.

If the service call is a technical problem, the ticket is routed to the Network Management Center (NMC), where it is displayed on a map as a color-coded symbol. Maps are multi-layered with state borders, market boundaries, major highways, antenna sites and other information to provide additional reference and perspective. Engineers can see at a glance if a pattern is developing and where problems are occurring.

Clicking on a symbol brings up the ticket detail; the TTS automatically color-codes the symbol to indicate the nature of the problem -- call drop or call interrupt, or unable to make or receive a call. Engineers can also zoom in on the symbol, bring up a list of nearby antenna sites and determine if there is a "hole" in the coverage area, or if the customer was outside the coverage area when the event occurred. "Several calls from one particular area could indicate a hole in the coverage," Winters explained. "This system could