January 31, 2020
“Drones are changing the game in the communications tower industry from a safety, quality and efficiency perspective.” – Jacob Cowart
The increased number of aerial cell tower inspections completed using drones in the past years, present the communication industry with opportunities and challenges alike.
Cell tower inspections.
Tower owners are facing the need to inspect their assets more frequently, as the assets age and the industry grows rapidly. Inspecting towers frequently lets owners avoid minor maintenance issues becoming giant, costly headaches.
Inspections are also required when assessing tower condition prior to a purchase or transaction, and upon a new build, a retrofit, or a colocation. The latter inspection types are meant to verify that the construction is in accordance with industry standards and project specifications alike.
Cell tower inspections can be worth gold.
One wireless company in the U.S owns more than 65,000 cellular towers alone and many companies lease physical spaces on their towers to third parties. This creates bountiful opportunities for DSPs wanting to fly not only the wireless company’s towers but also the leased spaces for other clients, all in one tower inspection.
Cell towers are plentiful and come in a wide variety of types, each of which comes with different methodologies and levels of complexity. We have summed up the most common below.
Constructed with 3 or 4 legged lattice-type structures offer the most possibilities compared to other types of telecom towers. These can support the heaviest load and withstand strong winds and weather conditions.
Freestanding with rectangular or triangular base steel lattices. These are typical for mounting a large number of dish or panel antenna.
A slender steel structures that are supported by level(s) of braided or stranded steel guy cables that anchor to the ground. These efficient and versatile towers are capable of maximum strength with a relatively easy installation.
A single-pole that can be a tubular or tapered pole are the most popular because it reduces visual impact, the low cost and speed of installation.
May be designed to appear as an artificial pine tree, palm tree, clock tower, or even an artificial cactus, in order to blend in and reduce visual impact in the community.
There are many types of cell tower inspections. The standard visual inspection can be combined with additional services that can maximize the value of the inspection:
- Pre / Post Tower Construction
- Periodic Tower Structural Audit Inspections – Visual
- Periodic Cellular hardware Inspections – Visual/Thermal
- Asset Location Mapping/3D Modeling – Ortho Photogrammetry
- LiDAR – for Point Cloud, Geo-Tagging
- RF (Radio Frequency) Inspections
So, like the so boldly states, the opportunities are immense – especially for the tower owners who need to know the ongoing condition of the asset in order to provide the best customer experience to their millions of wireless consumers.
The service provider can be an essential and valued extension to the Wireless Carrier by providing world-class inspection data and analytics for the tower owners.
Historically, performing cell tower inspections, required heavy equipment that needed to be transported to the tower location. There was also a real safety concern for the team of people physically climbing the structure. It required not only qualified technical skills to perform the inspection; (i.e. an understanding of structural integrity, along with technical knowledge to inspect the Cellular components) but also a team of experienced climbers.
The rise of Autonomous Drones brought cell tower inspections into the 21st century, and eliminated most of those challenges, all in one move.
Service providers are now utilizing these innovative methods, performing inspections safely from the ground, much faster, and with little to no educational background.
The CBA (cost-benefit analysis) ratio of cell tower inspections has drastically improved along with the quality of the data and the frequency of the data acquisition.
But, while drones have the potential to eliminate costly and hazardous man-hours, it also presents a new challenge: effectively managing the large amounts of data, that drones capture.
Managing large amounts of drone data.
The communication industry is one of the first industries to greatly benefit from the use of drones and UAVs.
But with the rise of commercial drones, comes the need for proper data management. To truly scale up the operations of drones to a commercial grade, the industry must improve their data management procedures, or they will fail to harvest the many benefits of this new inspection method.
Using drone inspection management software to detect damages and flaws in cell towers, is extremely efficient compared to using traditional methods of inspection image analysis.
The amount of data and the view that you can get with a drone, is overwhelming a lot of companies, just because they haven’t thought of the ways of being able to use the data.
But that’s our job, that’s what we’re helping companies do; expand their view and their understanding of how we can provide the drone data reliably and accurately so that they can manipulate it.
Colorado Aerial Imaging
Their customers are really happy with the results as well, which are presented either directly on the Scopito cloud-based platform, or in a professional pdf report with images of the defects.
Benefits of image processing software
- Processing images in efficient software saves time and money.
- A higher degree of detail in images and digital annotation of faults makes it easy to decide on rectifying actions.
- Pin-pointing the exact location of defaults is easy using geo-tagging, and saves repair-crews time and trouble.
- Sharing information with relevant stakeholders is effortless through customizable reports, sending single images or by granting outside stakeholders with access to the system.
- Images are always safely and securely stored.
The best software for processing Cell Tower inspections; Scopito.
When Colorado Aerial Imaging first partnered up with Scopito, they quickly realized the value they could gain from using the product for visual data management, for their cell tower inspections.
Using Scopito we have the ability to capture all this data, manage it, store it, and then deliver it to our customers.
They can zoom in, look on a map and see what the asset looks like and act on that, to see what needs to be repaired.
– Greg Bergin, Colorado Aerial Imaging
Their customers are always excited about Scopito as well.
Using Scopito is really easy and interactive. I can look at what I need to look at, or I can look at the whole line. It helps with everything.
– Stan Wyatt, United Power
Considering trying Scopito yourself?
The first 14 days are free – no credit card required.
Upgrades to infrastructure and maintenance
Inspection reports are currently used by companies to compare performances pre- and post installations or repairs. A mal-positioned antenna has a devastating impact on signal-reach and efficiency.
Scopito reports enable engineers to get an updated view and troubleshoot a variety of errors, long before reaching the site.
Users can look up custom made sub-sets of images (with custom-made tags), to accommodate their focus. Images can be categorized as ‘Verified as a problem’, ‘Point of interest’, ‘Colour coded mounts’ or any custom annotations, making it easy to group the images.
An American Scopito user successfully minimized the impact of cell towers on nature by using Scopito.
Local law prohibits carriers from doing any type of work or upgrades to a site that is inhabited by nests of endangered spices, like the Osprey.
By using the custom defined tags, they were able to filter historical data and learn on the traffic in the nests. Visual verification allows for an environmental biologist to speed up the process and share reports quickly with stakeholders.
Overcoming great distances
The vastness of the telecommunication coverage makes it necessary for companies to work with multiple contractors, inspectors or technicians.
Successfully facilitating this process by allowing users to create a private view for each one of their customers, is the main focus of the Scopito software.
Each one of the stakeholders in the process is provided with private login and a focused view of the inspections relevant to them. This enables multiple contributors to collaborate as well as work independently.
Utilizing layered maps
The ability to layer maps can drastically increase the value of inspection data, as images are presented over custom up-to-date maps, imported from other services. Engineers and technicians are able to plan upgrades to maps imported from map services such as DroneDeploy and use this to evaluate the impact of seasonal changes on the site.
The proper data management software will reduce costs, promote positive customer interactions and above all handle your data in a secure way and with a high degree of usability.
After reading this article, we hope that we have provided clarity and knowledge to the potential challenges and the absolute opportunity to engage proper inspection solutions.
We at Scopito understand the financial and (no less important) social impact that Wireless Carriers face if there are any interruptions to your services. We are always happy and ready to offer our expertise and assist you with your inspection strategy.
Reach out today for a talk about your opportunities.