The Validity of Using a Geographic Information System's Viewshed Function as a Predictor for the Reception of Line-of-Sight Radio Waves


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Virginia Tech


A Geographic Information System (GIS) viewshed is the result of a function that determines, given a terrain model, which areas on a map can be seen from a given point(s), line or area. In the communications industry, this function has been used to model radio wave coverages and to site transceiver towers for cellular phones. However, there are errors involved with this function and, without the requisite data, it cannot account for building heights that may affect visibility in urban areas. This paper examines the ability to accurately show line-of-sight (LOS) radio wave coverages in order to establish the viability of replacing existing field methods with GIS viewshed analysis.

An origin point capable of supporting a line-of-sight radio wave transmitter was chosen from within the Virginia Tech campus study area. A viewshed analysis was performed with ESRI's ArcView GIS, using this site as the observation point and a 30-meter resolution Digital Elevation Model (DEM) from the US Geological Survey. To check the accuracy of the viewshed, we transmitted at 27.5 GHz, a LOS frequency that has properties common in the wireless telecommunications industry. We also transmitted at 900 MHz from the same point to provide a comparison of the 27.5 GHz frequency to a non-line-of-sight radio wave.The data was recorded and then entered into the GIS where the visibility attribute of each point was compared to the viewshed's prediction of visibility.

After this comparison, footprints and heights of campus buildings were included in the model, by adding them to the ground heights of the DEM. Another viewshed analysis was performed using the same origin site and the new building height DEM as the elevation grid. This second viewshed was compared with the recorded visibility attribute and signal strength data. The use of more complete surface data was shown to have a more positive correlation with the recorded data than the previous model. The comparison of these two viewsheds demonstrated how well the viewshed function can represent real-world visibility and showed that the accuracy of the viewshed function is dependent on the accuracy of the elevation model. The signal strength attribute enabled us to create a communications viewshed, or 'commshed'. The commshed consists of all data points that received a signal strong enough to carry data. The building viewshed and commshed were then compared to see to what degree the 27.5 GHz frequency deviates from true line-of-sight paths. There were slightly fewer points in the commshed than points 'in view' in the viewshed model due to the frequency's small wavelength and the lack of vegetation data in the elevation grid. However, when a power margin is added to the transmitter strength in order to overcome unpredictable conditions, the commshed's predictive accuracy increases as well. This means that for LOS radio systems running under normal operating conditions, the viewshed is an excellent predictor of receiving areas. A 900 MHz commshed was also created so that we could study the relationship between a line-of-sight radio wave and a wave that is not blocked by structures. This comparison showed that, as expected, a viewshed is a better predictor of LOS radio waves than non-LOS waves. The data sets and analysis presented here should help communications companies ascertain the best way to incorporate GIS and the viewshed function into their wave coverage mapping and tower siting processes.



wireless, viewshed, telecommunications, GIS, LMDS