Digitising Towercos in a Digital World

Digitising Towercos in a Digital World

6 Jan 2021 Written by Sharon

vHive’s digital twin technology allows Towercos to cut costs and find new revenues.
Read this article to learn:

  • What is a digital twin?
  • How vHive improves site inspection
  • Where vHive can help: operations, M&A, maintenance and more
  • How other towercos are finding new value in their towers

The digitisation of society is one factor driving up towerco valuations, but it is also revolutionising how towercos operate. Why have Deutsche Telekom invested US$4mn in a drone software company? Because drones enable cost effective digitisation of assets. vHive are a software company that enables the creation of digital twins. Those twins in turn enable enhanced revenue assurance, the identification of faults, improvements to M&A processes and much more. TowerXchange discusses how vHive can help a towerco create value and cut costs while improving their internal processes. Towercos support much of the world’s digital infrastructure, and it is time for them to take advantage of its possibilities.

TowerXchange: Please introduce vHive, for those in our audience who are not aware your business.
Yariv Geller, CEO and Founder, vHive:

We are the only software solution provider that enables enterprises to deploy a hive of autonomous drones to digitse their field operations. vHive has built a software solution that is enterprise grade that scales up very nicely. This can scale up from a single drone or many drones, depending on the size of the site. The goal is gathering data from the field, generating it, analysing it, and creating useful actionable insights.
A drone is an exciting new tool, a sophisticated robot with sensors that can be sent to do work. We are harnessing that for the benefit of enterprises. A drone should be one tool in the tool kit of your field crews, they are available all over the world and our software enables the information collected to be quickly made useful.
The combination of commoditised drones and cloud-based software for data capture and analysis makes things so much easier. With the information collected we can create a digital twin which removes the requirement to inspect or re-inspect a site physically.
We have done a lot of work in the telco space, working with some of the largest towercos in the world in Europe, the US and LATAM, and we are now expanding into Asia as well.

TowerXchange: vHive helps towercos truly understand their assets, what are the principal areas where vHive can find new revenues and cut out unnecessary costs?
Yariv Geller, CEO and Founder, vHive:

There are several use cases, and we’re discovering new ones as we work with our clients. But the basic set are:

  • Site inspections for quality assurance
  • Creating digital 3D models to assist engineers
  • Identifying equipment for revenue assurance
  • M&A audits to ensure sites are as they are described
  • Surveying and modelling for new site roll-out and network planning

When we started out the focus was on cost reduction. The most obvious application of drones is to make inspections quicker to do, using fewer people and with a faster turnaround to actionable insights.
The current method of capturing data is sending tower climbers (typically more than one because tower climbers need to be in pairs). They need harnesses, the towers are very high, they use a measuring tape, a cell phone camera, and it can easily take half a day to collect information. And that information is not always accurate due to human error.
The alternative is to stay on the ground and send a drone to survey the site in less than an hour, producing documented high-resolution images, automatically generated 3D models and analytical insights.

Why DFMG work with vHive

With over 31,600 radio sites DFMG is a key player in developing mobile communications and media infrastructure. The company acquires, plans, realises, operates and markets radio sites throughout Germany. When it comes to building and managing sites many manual workflows such as site measurements and inspections are required. These are both time and cost intensive. This is why we chose to collaborate with vHive as with vHive’s innovative software solution DFMG can generate a sustainable increase in efficiency and quality, digitise sites using autonomous drone hives and replace manual labour…Over the past year we have conducted hundreds of drone flights to digitise operational workflows taking productivity employee safety and compliance sky-high with zero integration pains. Watch the full video.

TowerXchange: I don’t want to focus too much on the surveys themselves, I’d rather discuss the accurate and timely data they provide. How does your AI enable different teams to use the data in the most productive way possible?
Yariv Geller, CEO and Founder, vHive:

To date we have captured data from thousands of sites which means we have more than enough datasets to understand and automatically identify different items of interest.
We enable full measurements of the equipment on the tower (and of the tower itself), tilt angles, the direction of microwave dishes et cetera, and all of this information is available as a 3D model you can interact with. In addition to that we have tagging and annotation capabilities so that companies can define and tag items as they like, to enable different teams to identify points of interest easily.
In addition, we’ve created an AI engine that accurately identifies inventory for each site which covers active components like panels, microwaves, radio units et cetera and passive components, including empty mounts. So this information can be used to monitor towers, but also identify new revenue opportunities. We can also identify faults to enable predictive maintenance. For example, one customer of ours has many sites near the coast so close monitoring for rust is essential. But we can also spot debris and birds’ nests.
Our system understands the context and can synchronise the data to other systems, for example raising a ticket for repair and updating the asset management system. To enable collaboration we also enable tagging and sharing between different teams and individuals. This really speeds up the processes of knowledge diffusion and decision making.

TowerXchange: How do you go about identifying towers which may require additional maintenance (or where booked maintenance may not be required)?
Yariv Geller, CEO and Founder, vHive:

Our system speeds up every stage of the process. If you are sending two tower climbers to inspect a site you are looking at half day of work for two people, in contrast a single person can conduct a drone survey in an hour. Following that inspection the images and measurements have to be sent to an engineer to model the tower and inspect the data. Alternatively our system will create a full digital twin in 24 hours with no human intervention.
That digital twin highlights areas on the tower that require attention. That attention can be related to equipment on the tower or to faults. Detected insights can then be transformed to a field report, either on paper or on tablet, to inform field crews sent to correct any problem.
This means that those attending a tower will know precisely what is wrong, where the defect is and can plan in advance how to fix it by using the site’s digital twin. That reduces the amount of time required at the site, and reduces the chances of an unnecessary second visit.

TowerXchange: What would be the typical process for identifying unexpected equipment on a tower? How do you integrate with a towerco’s own revenue protection processes?
Yariv Geller, CEO and Founder, vHive:

Towercos do not install equipment on their towers, they lease space to telcos who then install the equipment. But often what is installed is not quite what has been agreed. Alternatively, new installed equipment isn’t logged properly into towercos systems. We assist with the process of synchronising what is on the tower with what is in the databases.
There may be three sector antennas instead of two sector antennas listed in the asset management system, perhaps the panel is 1.5m not 1m. Whatever it is, we have consistently found that there is a significant amount of inconsistency between asset management systems and what’s on the tower.
We also provide change detection capabilities. With repeated inspections our system will automatically identify equipment changes on a tower and highlight them in 3D. Towercos can extract business insights such as: changes in equipment installed on their towers, (removed or added) detection of changes in alignment of equipment or integrity of the tower due to the elements or any other analysis of large volumes of data in areas of change. This attention to detail is something that is easy to miss with a manual inspection.

TowerXchange: Demand for new sites is ramping up, how can you help with network planning and identifying sites for new towers?
Yariv Geller, CEO and Founder, vHive:

Many of our customers are deploying 4G and 5G sites at the moment. When we built our system we made sure that the drone could capture a variety of use cases. We call these mission profiles. So as well as covering towers or monopoles, you can request the drone to inspect and open field or a rooftop.
This creates a much quicker way to collect the information and find suitable sites. Line of sight analysis are easier to assess from a drone which can hover at the appropriate height. What may have needed a man with a camera in a cherry picker can now be done in minutes by a drone.

TowerXchange: People don’t associate drones with M&A but they can speed up site audits, how can you help towercos assess sites against the asset registry they’re given?
Yariv Geller, CEO and Founder, vHive:

This wasn’t an original use case for us, but in discussions with our clients we have found a way to really add value.
First of all, towercos are very big on M&A activity, but the current method is pretty blind. A towerco will buy assets and receive little more than a list of sites, locations, and what is supposedly on the site; but you are often taking the seller at their word. Usually it isn’t that sellers are trying to be deceptive, but that they don’t know what is really on their sites.
What typically happens is a sample audit, where a towerco will select some sites at random to see what is on there and the conditions of the site. This is relatively straightforward if time consuming if you already have operations somewhere, but if you don’t then it can become difficult. Especially with this year’s travel restrictions adding to the difficulty. Using drones means you can guarantee comparable and useful data, as well as auditing more sites at a lower cost.
This improves due diligence and creates a much better picture of what is being bought by the towerco. It can also identify equipment on the tower which shouldn’t be and create quick revenue wins and new billing opportunities from day dot.

TowerXchange: Deutsche Telekom recently made a major investment in vHive, and you already work with Deutsche Funkturm and Phoenix Towers International – would you say the sky’s the limit in terms of industry uptake of drones and digital twin technology?
Yariv Geller, CEO and Founder, vHive:

We are already working with some of the biggest towercos in the world and now received US$4mn of investment from Deutsche Telekom. Telcos and towercos realise that the world is digitising and they want to follow that. We are moving from static paper and reports to something more interactive, dynamic and intelligent. This is driving adoption by major towercos.
TowerXchange recently ran a Data Collection And Utilisation Working Group on and digital twins and all the big players were there – they are either already adopting the technology or working out where it can add value for them. The sky is indeed the limit and we will be working out how to seamlessly integrate into towercos systems and plans for the future.

Source: www.towerxchange.com/digitising-towercos-in-a-digital-world/ 

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