5G Network Rollouts

5G Network Rollouts: How Autonomous Drone Inspections are Helping Tower Companies

28 Jan 2021 Written by Sharon

The 5G revolution has begun.  Consumers are more than ready to take advantage of greater connectivity, and businesses are rapidly developing technology products that will take advantage of 5G.  Nokia and Nokia Bell Labs research estimates that 5G-enabled industries could deliver $8 trillion in value to the global economy by 2030: more than 72% of large companies surveyed plan to invest in 5G over the next 5 years, and a third of those companies are afraid of losing a competitive advantage if they do not invest in the next 3 years.

 

The clamor for 5G is so great that service providers are forced to provide consumers with maps and timelines indicating when 5G will be available in their neighborhood.  This demand has put significant pressure on tower companies to quickly enable 5G network rollout by expanding their capacity.

Tower companies may need to add new locations and new towers where the land is available: that means a sometimes lengthy and expensive planning and permitting process.  In dense urban areas, they’ll need to add equipment to their existing towers: but their asset records are not consistently current and accurate.  Establishing exactly what the current equipment is and identifying free space can require sending field personnel out to perform visual inspections.

Autonomous Drone Inspections Provide Accurate Data and Insights, Quickly

Autonomous drone inspections can provide tower companies with the data and insights they need to expand their infrastructure. vHive’s autonomous drone software gathers high resolution aerial data and generates accurate 3D models and a 360-degree panoramic view of a potential antennae location.  Stakeholders are able to see exactly what is in the line of sight from the location; identify potential obstructions; and establish the distance from nearby existing antennae.  This data can be easily and inexpensively acquired locally – but can be shared anywhere in the world.  The process of acquiring local permits is made dramatically easier when accurate data is shared between tower companies and local regulators.

In dense urban areas, tower companies may not be able to develop an entirely new site: in urban environments, tower companies must adapt their existing site to the 5G network needs. Autonomous drone inspections allow companies to see exactly what that existing equipment is and determine how to utilize the site profitably for the 5G network rollout.

Autonomous Drone Inspections as an Essential Tool for Building a 5G Network

The vHive platform makes it simple to perform an autonomous drone inspection. Whether utilizing the existing workforce or outsourcing to a local licensed drone pilot, the inspection can be performed with an inexpensive, off the shelf drone.  vHive’s autonomous drone software plans the optimal flight around the asset, dividing the work between numerous drones to cut down on time if required.  The drone executes the survey, the aerial data acquired is uploaded to vHive’s secure cloud platform, and the data is processed into usable information. The user can analyze and interact with all acquired visualized data and receive clear actionable business insights.

When developing a new tower, the data allows companies to receive a realistic view of a proposed site, including a 360-degree line of sight analysis – all without traveling to a distant location.  For existing tower sites- monopole, lattice, self-support, guy-wired or rooftop installations – the benefits are even greater. Performing manual tower inspections is time consuming, costly, and dangerous: autonomous drone inspections can cut the cost and the time spent significantly, and the results are better.  A “digital twin” of existing assets provides stakeholders with all of the information (in a 3D model, 2D high resolution imagery, inventory analytics and more)  that they need to make decisions on adding to equipment: unutilized mounts or free space is easily identified and can be tagged for future use.   Clear visualization of a tower is more easily understood and reliable than old and sometimes inaccurate written records.

As the 5G rollout continues, tower companies are working to provide the infrastructure needed while maintaining profitability.  Cutting the time and costs required for new site developments and increasing utilization of existing towers in dense areas are opportunities to improve margins: but autonomous drone inspections provide a competitive edge in ongoing operations, too.

During normal ongoing operations, an up-to-date and accurate digital inventory is a major advantage for tower companies, and autonomous drone inspections facilitate this.  Companies can perform more frequent regular maintenance inspections, while still dramatically reducing field operations.  Field experts can review the data from their offices, reducing risks and increasing safety.  Maintaining a current database of digital assets ensures that billing is based on accurate data.  Mergers and acquisitions are more easily processed with accurate and easily available – and shareable – data.

Consumers and enterprise businesses are embracing the opportunities that 5G and new technologies provide.  Tower companies must also utilize the newest technology tools to maintain their edge in the highly competitive global market of 2021.

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