Now, ‘eye in the sky’ helping telecom tower companies

Rashmi Pratap Mumbai | Updated on January 09, 2018

Drones are helping them cut maintenance costs and response time

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones are now being used to digitise and manage telecom towers in India, mirroring the US market. Apart from being safer than the use of manual resources, drones also help cut costs and provide highly accurate data for asset maintenance.

Indus Towers, India’s largest tower company, is using them in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal and will extend it to other sites in future.

“Drones help in digitising assets for tower companies. They get pictures of towers and through visual analysis, we reconstruct the three-dimensional model of the tower, mark out the design and defects and give it back to asset manager,” says Rahat Kulshreshtha, founder and CEO of Quidich, which uses drone technology alongside geographic information systems (GIS) to help businesses.

Drones – data mines

Quidich is currently working with Indus Towers — a three-way JV between Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular. In the US, both AT&T and Verizon Wireless have been using drones for tower inspection since last year.

“With simply a click, asset managers are able to map the entire structure and correlate whether the tower actually has four or six antennae of various operators or if there is any leakage of revenues. Moreover, the data helps check compliance issues like functional flight lights, lightning arresters, engineering defects or even the impact of wind on a tower,” Kushreshtha says.

Such detailed data can help improve the life of the tower. Ankit Mehta, CEO of Mumbai-based ideaForge Technology, says reconstructing a tower with drones can help measure factors like inclination of the antennae, which can be adjusted according to the load of the traffic at various times of the day.

“Moreover, there are possibilities of inaccuracies, both intentional and unintentional, in manually collected data. All these are ruled out when drones are deployed,” he says.

ideaForge is also in talks with three tower companies for implementation of similar projects.

Cut costs and danger

Above all, tower climbing is a dangerous task and tower companies tend to have a huge safety budget because of the high risk of fatal falls while using manual resources. “Drones help in a much safer collection of imagery and videos of cell sites and equipment,” says Mehta. Typically, a drone can survey up to three cell sites in a day, each survey costing around ₹20,000, and the process need not be repeated for at least two years because of the intensive data collected in one round.

This compares well with the multiple manual visits, which cost anywhere between ₹800 and ₹3,000 per climb, depending on the location of the site. “And there are distinct advantages like quality and quantity of evidence-based data, which is crucial for businesses,” says Mehta.

Sivarama Krishnan, Executive Director at PwC India, points out that drones also help cut down on response time because towers are not always in easily accessible locations. “They can do the manual work much faster. Moreover, a lot of preventive maintenance is driven by physical maintenance of the cell site. Drones are helpful in both the aspects,” he says.

He points out that about 90 per cent of faults at telecom towers are electronic failures and not physical failures like power disconnection. “With drones, you can always remotely connect and resolve the problem through the drone itself or use manual resources,” Krishnan adds.

Published on December 01, 2017

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