Transmission and Distribution Inspections
What are Transmission and Distribution Inspections?
Transmission and distribution inspections are an overarching process for inspecting and maintaining the physical infrastructure involved in transmitting data through a mobile network operator’s (MNO) services.
Tower companies, which are organizations that own each tower and lease them to MNOs, may conduct these inspections. In some cases, MNOs may own the towers themselves, so they’ll take on this responsibility.
Regardless of the specific company carrying out the process, it’s a vital process that ensures every tower can operate effectively and strives to prevent unplanned downtime. The results of these inspections may lead to preventative maintenance to correct any issues before they affect end users.
Critical Aspects of Assessing the Transmission Physical Infrastructure
Transmission inspection goes beyond the physical inspection and may include radio frequency evaluation and network performance monitoring. However, the physical infrastructure itself is often the primary focus of these transmission and distribution inspections.
Cell Tower and Mast Inspections
Inspecting the structural integrity of the cell tower and mast is a crucial component of an effective inspection. These physical inspections aim to identify any possible problems before they lead to downtime or more expensive issues, like a collapse. Protecting these expensive assets is a key motivator behind conducting thorough inspections.
Traditionally, organizations have relied on manual inspections that were time-intensive and error-prone. Newer methods, like opting for a drone inspection, can go far in saving time and enhancing accuracy by thoroughly photographing findings for later analysis.
Misaligned antennas can have a significant effect on overall network performance. As such, inspecting the alignment and overall health of antennas is crucial to ensuring they provide an optimal signal.
Conducting these inspections typically includes checking tilt, antenna patterns, and azimuth settings to ensure the tower is providing optimal capacity and coverage.
Power line inspection is a vital element of the inspection process. Identifying any possible issues with power lines before they become complete outages can go far in keeping services online.
However, inspecting power systems goes beyond the power lines and includes backup systems. All generators should be tested for functionality, so if an outage does occur, the outage can be corrected with minimal to no downtime.
Backhaul connectivity describes the infrastructure that connects an individual tower to the core network. The specific technology may vary, often including fiber optic and microwave links.
Backhaul transmission and distribution inspections aim to ensure all links are working as expected and providing optimal performance. In the case of microwave links, this also includes physical alignment.
Remote Monitoring Systems
MNOs and tower companies often use remote monitoring systems to oversee each asset in the network. However, these systems can also have issues, possibly allowing issues to occur without triggering alerts. It’s vital to inspect their calibration and functionality periodically to prevent oversights.
Compliance with Applicable Regulations
Tower companies and MNOs must comply with regulatory requirements; otherwise, they can incur fines and penalties. The exact regulations vary by jurisdiction but often include safety standards, environmental regulations, and electromagnetic exposure limits.
Inspecting and documenting compliance-specific areas during transmission and distribution inspections is crucial to protecting your business.
Methods to Conduct Transmission and Distribution Inspections
How are tower companies or MNOs carrying out the physical side of these inspections? We’ve seen a variety of new methods evolve in recent years that have helped make these inspections more cost-effective and accurate. Let’s explore the most popular methods.
Drone Aerial Inspections
Drone inspections have emerged as a rapid and cost-effective method for conducting several specific elements of transmission and distribution inspections. These drones have cameras to safely and quickly capture high-res images and videos of hard-to-reach places. This inspection method shines for inspecting tall towers.
Many organizations still use manually piloted drones, which is an improvement on legacy methods. Advancements in AI have allowed autonomous drones to take drone inspections to the next level. Autonomous drones allow inspectors to activate the drone and then return to other tasks while the drone captures data for later review.
The tried and tested manual inspection is still at the heart of transmission and distribution inspections, but new technologies have advanced technicians’ capabilities, safety, and time effectiveness.
Manual inspections describe a physical visit to sites and visually inspecting the overall condition of a tower’s structure, antenna, and other components. The goal is to identify any signs of wear, structural concerns, corrosion, or degrading performance.
Now, autonomous drones and thermal imaging cameras are aided by inspections to streamline several critical aspects of this vital process. Additionally, being able to review drone footage later minimizes the time an inspector needs to spend at each individual tower.
Thermal imaging is used in these inspections to identify hot spots in the electronic equipment. Unexpected hotspots can indicate overuse, inefficient cooling, or possible failures.
Identifying these issues before they escalate can prevent downtime and damage to costly components. Instead, your teams can schedule preventative maintenance to correct these problems ahead of any incidents.
Corrosion occurs over a long period and can culminate in severe structural issues. Even though transmission and distribution inspections are more concerned with overall functionality, they should still include identifying any corrosion.
Unidentified corrosion reduces the structure integrity of specific areas of the tower. If left unchecked, it causes these areas to lose strength and possibly result in a collapse. Frequent corrosion inspections are especially crucial for any towers located near the ocean or other bodies of water.
Predictive Maintenance Technologies
While not technically a way to visibly inspect towers, it’s worth mentioning that new technologies powered by AI and Big Data are capable of generating more accurate maintenance estimates.
Depending on the solution, you may be able to provide data gathered by any of the above inspection methods and receive insightful guidance for when maintenance should be conducted. The goal of these programs is to correct any possible issues before they affect uptime or operations.