SoftBank Mobile Corp. is pushing forward with a plan to double the roughly 60,000 base stations they have in one year as an opportunity to interface with their customers. To efficiently provide support for that effort, they are bolstering their
existing geographic information system (GIS), constructing a variety of geo-media services (providing information related to location), including dynamic population data applications, mobile connections and information updates available to the general public.
SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition is the tool of choice for supporting their geo-media services database containing three billion records. For the backbone, which includes Web services for the public, they are using White Cloud, a cloud service from SoftBank
Telecom, and Windows Azure, a cloud service from Microsoft.
Since entering the mobile phone market, SoftBank Mobile Corp. (SoftBank Mobile) has been the focus of much talk, with their energetic approach in providing innovative services, a product lineup with advanced features to meet customer needs, and serious development
of smart phones.
||At SoftBank Mobile...we announced the substantial goal of doubling the number of base stations we have in one year...I believe the system we are constructing now will be a valuable asset to our successors two or three decades down
Director and CTO
SoftBank Mobile Corp.
On March 28, 2010, SoftBank Mobile issued a significant declaration to their users, entitled the “SoftBank Declaration of Wireless Improvement.” In it, they proclaimed they would eliminate dissatisfaction with wireless communication that customers complained
about by “doubling” their base stations in fiscal 2010, which they had already been in the process of increasing since they introduced their third-generation (3G) mobile communication system in 2002. Junichi Miyakawa, Director and CTO of SoftBank Mobile, explained.
“By March of 2010, we had about 60,000 3G base stations installed. Even in global terms, that is a large number. But wireless radio waves are living things, and they bounce off buildings, creating dead spots that are one of many factors frustrating customers.
We reflected on the criticism we had received, and we created the ‘Declaration of Wireless Improvement’ to work on three measures aimed at improving the situation: doubling the number of base stations, providing free miniature base stations, and distributing
free Wi-Fi routers.”
The “Declaration of Wireless Improvement” calls for a regional enhancement of radio waves by doubling the
|Junichi Miyakawa, Director and CTO
number of base stations, and providing free miniature base stations (known as femtocells) as part of a plan to improve service in locations pinpointed as having base-station radio wave interference or where SoftBank Mobile’s wireless 2 GHz waves do not easily
reach. They are planning distribution of free Wi-Fi routers to ordinary businesses and users in three stages to promote the use of Wi-Fi for distributing the bandwidth load. A unique feature of this project is the open and flexible relationship that they maintain
with the customer.
“The ‘Declaration of Wireless Improvement’ actually got its start with Twitter. Twitter is just one of the many means through which we build relationships with our customers. Our Representative Director [Masayoshi] Son followed up with a number of customers
and received direct feedback, and it turned out that there were indeed many customers who were dissatisfied with their wireless situation. As I mentioned earlier, however, because of the nature of radio waves, this is not simply a matter of increasing the
number of base stations. It takes a great deal of time to work out the details on locations where there is no signal, which may entail diagnosing such problems as the radio-wave interference ratio and poor reception underground.
So our idea was to invite users to send in connection problem reports from around the country, and we would then analyze each situation and pinpoint the exact location of the problem—that is, we decided to improve our wireless service based on customer feedback.
To that end, we created an application for smart phones called the Wireless Signal Checker, which allows users to send us requests for improvement by simply pressing a button whenever they can’t get service.”
SoftBank Mobile continues to improve their service this way to this day. To support their improvement program, they have constructed GIS databases, and collected and analyzed base-station and area-simulation data.
In 2005, they integrated all of the GISs used by each department, creating their “integrated GIS-DB” which gave them the ability to comprehensively identify and analyze any mobile and broadband infrastructure data in the system, along with accompanying sales
data. To encourage the use of that data, they created a Web-based “geo-media service” that can be accessed by any in-house employee, at any time. In addition, the use of the call center and technical support has assisted the selection of candidate locations
for new base stations and other activities, which are still ongoing.
|Declaration of Wireless Improvement – Overall Flow
Nevertheless, the “Declaration of Wireless Improvement” laid out a mission to double the number of base stations in one year, a rigorous program given that it had taken them 10 years to get that many in the first place. To achieve their goal, SoftBank Mobile
has refocused their reliance on data and developed mobile geo-media services to speed up the pace of installation. Through the smart phone application, they have established a system that compares information from the customer to data in the database, providing
instant analysis and results, so that the company can follow up with a simple local test to determine whether the service needs to be improved. This has expedited the process of installing base stations.
President Son was very intent on SoftBank Mobile making every detail of the progress of this project open to the public, as the project got its start with a commitment to customers on Twitter.
While installing new base stations, they therefore began development of a publicly accessible geo-media service “Denpa Jokyo Pinpoint Kensaku” (Wireless Status Pinpointing Search) that will work in real time, showing their daily progress in wireless improvements
to customers. Going public in October of 2010, they had constructed the system in a short time, designed with the availability and scalability needed for the heavy access from customers throughout the country that they expected—including the responses from
Twitter. By opening a direct line of communication with their customers, responding and making the results public, and then asking for feedback again, they are engaged in “real-time marketing.”
The database that has supported these GISs and geo-media services is Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition, with Windows Azure
Platform handling some of the resources for the enormous quantity of data.
Relational databases for easy geo-media services, easily handling 3 billion records
Since SoftBank Mobile began use of their stand-alone GIS in 2004, the database storing their accumulated and active data has been SQL Server. Kazuhisa Shibayama, General Manager of Area Solutions Planning Department Manager &AreaPlanning Department, Mobile
Solutions Division, looking back on the situation, said, “When we first started building the system, some people were concerned about whether SQL Server was the way to go. Since we had a lot of engineers on our staff who were experts at using Windows Server
and SQL Server, we decided to construct a relational database (RDB) using SQL Server. Our data load continues to grow to this day, and SQL Server provides stable
Area Solutions Planning Department
performance through each upgrade.”
Having confirmed the operational performance over the course of several years, we are adopting SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition for use in the reconstruction of our system. We are running with 3 billion records of data.
The newly boosted geo-media services use Bing Maps for Enterprise to provide map data with an API (application programming interface). The interface is built with Microsoft Silverlight.
Shibayama explains the history leading up to the decision. “Initially, what we created for our geo-media services was broadband infrastructure information. When GIS middleware is used, you are using a technology known as ‘spatial joinit’ for plotting information
on the map, but the processing is extremely time-intensive. At the time, we had five million users on ADSL, a volume which we could not handle as the data crunching for looking at Tokyo, for example, would take over half a day.
By employing ordinary Web technology, however, we successfully launched our geo-media services. The key factor was the standard support in SQL Server 2008 and later versions for spatial data forms (geometry and geography). Using that feature, we designed
a relational structure with RDB tables to match the coordinates of buildings — which undergo relatively few changes — resulting in a boost of more than 10 times for
Web page display times. Also, because the data is in an RDB, we can export to Excel, helping regular analysis go smoothly.”
Yuji Soga, Manager (Area Solutions Planning Department), recalled how they looked into Oracle Database during the construction, too.
“We did not really hesitate on the decision that much. With SQL Server, you get reasonable performance just with the default configuration, but with Oracle, there is a huge amount of tuning required for the parameters. Not only that, but we received regular
support from Microsoft headquarters and reviews on our system architecture employing SQL Server and Bing Maps. Given the continuous stable performance we had with SQL Server, plus the fact that installation and maintenance costs are about one-third those needed
for Oracle, it was an easy decision to
|Yuji Soga, Manager,
go with SQL Server 2008 R2.
To give you an example, ‘Denpa Jokyo Pinpoint Kensaku’ (Wireless Status Pinpointing Search) is predicted to generate quite a few transactions. Not only our 20 million existing customers, but potential customers who are looking at switching from other carriers
use this feature to check the service status at their locations 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, whenever they feel like it. Since they’re waiting for a response from our database, the demand on the system is really high, but we expect that SQL Server 2008
R2 will handle it without any problem. On top of that, Bing Maps is based on an API so it doesn’t have to be held within the database, and the costs are about 70 percent less than purchasing map information on a project basis as we had in the past. Another
thing is that a Bing Maps controller is included in Silverlight, making interface development easy.”
The new system built with this “integrated GIS-DB” is accessible in-house as a “geo-media service for anyone to use anytime, anywhere” to meet the age of the smart phone.
A typical feature is dynamic population estimation data, developed by SoftBank Group based on data that has been continuously accumulated. Not limited merely to residents, new students and people joining the work force, this is the first collection of data
in the world to include shoppers, recreationists, tourists and more by time series (by hour, day of the week, month or season). Using this data, you can make detailed assessments of a dynamic population on a dynamic screen. In addition to identifying semi-fixed
features such as how buildings are laid out, it is possible to determine and analyze variation in the number of accesses to a base station down to the hour, making it possible to create a more detailed wireless improvement plan.
In order to curb capital investment as far as possible, they are utilizing the public cloud Windows Azure Platform for dynamic population estimate data and other information, which they are making available for public access. This method of applying appropriate
Development Planning Sec,
Area Solutions Planning Department
each area of the system optimizes the construction costs for the system as a whole.
The heart of the wireless signal improvement program that SoftBank Mobile is currently promoting encourages customers to transmit information, an element of the program that has resulted in some 4.5 million submissions as of October 2010 through their smart
phone application “Wireless Signal Checker” alone. In addition to providing SoftBank Mobile with continuous data on outdoor wireless status, Wireless Signal Checker has a save function that allows users to register locations outside of the service area, which
will be transmitted at a later time.
For their newest geo-media service, SoftBank Mobile has established a wireless signal improvement policy for comparing the data users send in to the wide range of data the company has collected, including dynamic population estimate data. If the wireless
signal interference status at a location needs to be known, a manager pinpoints the location on the geo-media service map on a computer, and sends a work request to a worker in the field. The worker confirms the request using the geo-media services screen
on a Windows Phone and physically moves to the location. The worker operates a dedicated application, which collects more detailed information and sends it to the main office, which will be useful in the final improvement plan. The operation of the application
essentially requires the simple click of a button, and does not require a special technician. This simplicity makes it possible to process more locations, more quickly.
The Wireless Status Pinpointing Search is a publicly open geo-media service that provides an instant picture of the status of wireless improvements from moment to moment, supported by various measures and mechanisms. Using White Cloud as a private cloud
service virtualized with Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V, SoftBank Telecom Corp. has an abundance of resources at the ready for customers around the country to freely use the Wireless Status Pinpointing Search. This service enables users to perform map searches
for addresses, landmarks, train stations and other places, and click the point they want when the desired area is displayed, so they can confirm whether there is a signal, or what the status of wireless signal improvement is for their home, work and other
Effects of Implementation
Utilizing data for efficient surveys of wireless signal status through detailed analysis, and strategic management planning with Excel.
Development Planning Sec,
Area Solutions Planning Department
The geo-media services SoftBank Mobile has created have many benefits. The main benefits are divided into system advantages and use advantages below.
System architecture benefits
The use of SQL Server 2008 R2 and IIS has resulted in responsive geo-media services
The use of Bing Maps and Silverlight has enabled the construction of an easy-to-use and attractive interface in a short time
Scalability and costs have been optimized by separating out the use of White Cloud and Windows Azure using Hyper-V
A confirmation study combining the mobile-oriented geo-media services and Windows Phone applications enables them to increase their wireless improvement efforts based on the 4.5 million submissions of data (as of October 2010)
By sharing the information in-house with the geo-media service, they are able to respond quickly to customers based on consistent information from their call center to their technical department
They can export the massive 3 billion records of data accumulated in their RDB to Microsoft Office Excel, which they can use for application and project planning, marketing, and daily analyses and analytical tasks
Services such as the Wireless Signal Checker and Wireless Status Pinpointing Search make it possible to build seamless connections (provide information) from receiving a customer request to the implementation of a service improvement
“To begin with, the more sophisticated use of data had a real impact on our wireless improvement program. We used to have to go to the location and use specialized equipment to perform measurements and investigate, but now we simply run a simulation on our
geo-media services, narrowing down the survey area beforehand. What’s more, we don’t need to send out skilled technicians because the local investigation only requires pressing a button on an application developed for the Windows Phone. Whereas before a worker
could do only two or three locations per day, he can now do between six and eight, which is a tremendous leap in efficiency.”
Shibayama continued about how this has helped in selecting the type of base station as well.
“The dynamic population estimate data is a big help when considering our options, such as for small base stations. A location might seem at first glance to need only a small base station, but may in fact have large numbers of people at a certain time of
day that cannot be supported by that number of ports. Almost all of the analysis required for selecting an appropriate base station can now be done from our desks. This is huge in terms of cost effectiveness.”
Shibayama also explained that the range of data that SoftBank Mobile has collected can be used not only in a GIS or geo-media service, but can also be written from their SQL Server RDB to Excel to support a variety of decision-making processes for management.
“In our company, we often use Excel data in meetings. By pulling data out of our geo-media service database to Excel, we can run analyses that are useful in strategic planning for management. Also, when you present data at meetings using Excel, you can change
values on the fly for simulations, which adds flexibility to the discussion.”
Building new relationships with customers for thirty years to come SoftBank Mobile has just begun implementation of their “Declaration of Wireless Improvement.” Miyakawa explained how SoftBank Mobile now has a new way to build long-lasting relationships
with customers, who can now check the status of progress in detail through SoftBank Mobile’s geo-media services.
“This project has moved forward under the idea of creating deeper relationships with customers. In the past, we built our network based on corporate concepts, but now we are changing our perspective and challenging ourselves to listen to our customers, ask
them questions, and create services built on mutual consensus.
“The devices used are evolving—look at smart phones, for example—and the way customers use their devices will change along with that. But we are now able to listen directly to our customers using means such as Twitter. This ability to enter new territory
while keeping communication open with customers is really meaningful.”
Miyakawa made some closing comments.
“At SoftBank Mobile, we’re going to keep moving forward with these efforts. This year, we announced the substantial goal of doubling the number of base stations we have in one year, and we will continue in our endeavor to provide better service to our customers
for 10, 20, and 30 years to come.
At our company, we have been collecting data the whole time, and that will not change. Radio waves are living things. As each area changes, the status of wireless service will change, too. When a building is torn down or a new one put up, customers will
complain that they can’t get service, and the ability to get a handle on those changes will make a major difference for us.
“In that respect, I believe the system we are constructing now will be a valuable asset to our successors even two or three decades down the road.”
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