Drones: Communicating their real value

August 6, 2018 | #Telecommunications

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones have (over past years), been largely overlooked by telco conglomerates and considered tools of moderate or little value. A recent global report on commercial telco drone applications, however, has noted the uptake and addressable market value of drone solutions in the teleco industry is now an astonishing $A7.0 billion.

We won’t pontificate or finger point about the slow telco uptake of drone technology in this blog(!), but rather identify and review some specific applications wireless carriers and telco operators are looking at and indeed engaging in with drone technology.

Tower inspections

OK, tower climbing must be one of the most hazardous jobs in the world. The good news is that drones are increasingly being used to phase out this manual practice by conducting aerial tower inspections, capturing pictures, video and data about each tower and sending it to the carrier network (safely on the ground) instantly.

Drones can also monitor towers from any elevation and angle and with the right payload on board,  model the cell tower from a complete 3D perspective. Drones are also small and easily manoeuvrable to view details close up to enable regular asset monitoring so maintenance and repair decisions can be made with confidence and in a timely manner.

In addition to protecting personnel, drones can carry out these routine audits and inspections much faster and more cost-effective than when done manually. The other bonus is that the data collected is also generally more accurate.

Reduced costs

Using drones for tower maintenance is dramatically reducing telco maintenance costs. It is estimated, a single tower climb can up to can cost up to  $A5,000, depending upon the scope of the inspection. Using drones to do the same job is a fraction of both the time and cost. Drones are, of course, extremely lightweight and cheaper to deploy and when compared to using manned aircraft for inspections, there is simply no comparison.

Radio planning and line-of-sight testing

Drones are also being used for radio planning and line-of-sight testing (line-of-sight refers to a clear path between two antennas). For example, using drone technology, various obstacles that degrade radio signals such as trees, buildings and hilltops, can be identified and avoided. This information can then be used to determine the ideal location and height for an antenna.

Disaster recovery

Drones can be leveraged to help get telecommunications infrastructure back online in wake of a disaster. As an example, in the US recently, telco giant  AT&T used LTE-equipped drones to reconnect thousands of subscribers who lost wireless service following a hurricane.

In the air longer

Drones can now fly as 4G ‘base stations’ or ‘relay stations’ and be flown to any location. Indeed, unlike satellites, drones can be parked in the air with solar-powered drones having the capacity to (literally) fly for months at a time and balloon type drones floating for long periods with minimal use of energy.

Advancing telco technology

In the near future, drones will be used for broadcasting telecommunication signals, such as radio, television and internet, both permanently and in temporary roles. For example, drones can be a part of Cell on Wheels (COW) technology –  a portable mobile cellular site that provides temporary network and wireless coverage to locations where cellular coverage is minimal or compromised. COWs are used to provide expanded cellular coverage and/or capacity to meet short-term demand, such as at major public events or during natural disasters.

So what drone technology do we recommend and are currently being used in telco applications?
DJI Matrice 200 series with Zenmuse Z30 or XT thermal camera
Matrice 200

A sturdy, highly efficient commercial drone perfect for demanding telco applications. It is a fully integrated solution with proven camera, aircraft and ground control apps and ready to deploy in minutes.

It combines flight stability, gimbal technology, mobile app integration and image transmission. Rugged in construction, it has an enclosed design that ensures weather and water resistance, so it can fly in a wide range of environments.

Zenmuse Z30 (zoom)

With the Zenmuse Z30 on-board, faster tower inspections can be undertaken. Considered the most powerful integrated aerial zoom camera on the market, it has a 30x optical and 6x digital zoom for a total magnification up to 180x.

When inspecting towers, it enables you to get a detailed look at structures, wires and modules to determine functionality or damage. Mounted aboard the M200, it eliminates the need for dangerous manual inspection and the risk of crashing into tower or other telco assets with its high-resolution zoom features.  You are also able to stream footage to a central hub to reduce resources on the ground.

Zenmuse Thermal XT

The DJI Zenmuse XT is a high-sensitivity (50mK) thermal imaging 640/30 fps or 336/30 fps camera. This sensitivity provides accurate measurements ideal for telco analytics and telemetry.  The camera is available with four lens options to meet different telco application needs. Stabilised and controlled by a custom DJI gimbal, it provides smooth, clear imagery and 360 degrees of seamless rotational movement.

The XT also displays thermal imagery in real time so is also ideal for night time use.

Other features include image enhancements and the ability to take photos while recording video.

Microdrones mdMAPPER with LiDAR

The Microdrones mdMAPPER range are robust, powerful, stable and dependable drones perfect for telco applications. They can take a minimum 20 megapixel camera and attached to lightweight and vibration free mounts, it allow users to capture all the images they need and in high-resolution.

It has ‘smart’  batteries and charging for maximum flight time and a planning module so you can prepare and carry out automated flights. You can also connect the drone to your digital devices and it has proven, professional telemetry to keep you in control at all times.

The mdMapper range also incorporates LiDAR technology with the power of direct georeferencing. A key advantage of LiDAR for telcos is that it enables the user to achieve a full ground model, even in the presence of leafy trees and vegetation.

Overall, LiDAR gives telco operators powerful geospatial tools for monitoring and mapping so they can efficiently and accurately create detailed terrain models perfect for tower placement selection.

Elistair tethering solutions

As an introduction, tethered drones provide a wide range of options for aerial observation operations. This emerging technology is providing new applications for the commercial drone market including aerial surveillance, border observation, emergency incident management, traffic monitoring, telecommunications, pollution measuring, industrial inspections and live broadcasting.

For telecommunications, Elistair tethered UAVs are powerful tools acting as airborne relays. They enable the creation of temporary networks including cellular, WiFi, high-frequency radio and 3G/4G signals. Thanks to their high-speed data transfer, Elistair  tethered systems are particularly suited for pop-up telecommunications.

Getting underway

If you are new to drone technology or simply want to learn more, we highly recommend you speak to a commercial drone specialist that can advise you on both drone options and the best approach to their commercial use in applications such as telecommunications.

Sphere Drones is arguably Australia’s leading source of expertise on commercial drone technology solutions in Australia.

Their Sydney-based operation is a state-of-the-art solutions development facility with some of the UAV industry’s leading personnel – making it (or their website) a logical first step to learn more about or identify a solution for your commercial needs.  

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