Drones For Inspection of Telecom Towers
Drones For Inspection of Telecom Towers : Can you just imagine a world without telecommunication network? I can’t imagine the stress our fore fathers went through to communicate with one another from far places. They have to travel several kilometers to deliver message using donkey, camels, horse which is the fastest way to deliver messages. Sometimes, they have to walk. So as you can see sending and receiving messages was a very difficult task for our fore fathers. Gone are the days when Pheidippides ran from marathon to Athens just to deliver a news of a military victory against the Persians at the battle of marathon. Pheidippides ran for days. You can imagine the amount of energy he exhausted just to send a message.
But as thing started changing, the use of letters came in where by you can go to the post office to send your letter and your receiver have to wait for days depending on the distance. But you still need to go to the post office to send your letter which is stressful. The advent of electric telephone in 1870s using an multi signal telegraphs which has revolve over the years. But as the world grows, technology grows. Many measure were adopted technologically to enhance telecommunication in the world through the introduction of telephones and global system for mobile communication (GSM). Thanks for president Olusegun Obasanjo who introduce GSM in Nigeria market on 6th August, 2001. Nowadays message can be sent within 5 seconds to different places in the world. Calling anywhere in the world can be done within a twinkle of an eye.
How can drone be used in telecommunication?
Telecommunication involves the transmission of signals, messages, words, writings, images and sounds or information of any nature by wire, radio, optical or other electromagnetic systems. This is transmitted through a transmission medium via an electromagnetic radiation or electrical cable through space such as light or radio. This critical telecommunication infrastructure needs to be monitored and inspected often which relies on trained personnel for the necessary checks.
A drone (UAV) a play a very significant role in telecommunication inspection. Telecom mast are mounted around the world with antennas for the transmission of microwaves signals. Microwave is part of electromagnetic spectrum which has very long wave length compared to gamma or X rays. This are mounted on high land and sometimes are difficult and risk for physical inspection due to hostile environments where factors such as the height, the wind, waves, weather, and radiation can lead to accidents. Drone technology is rapidly being embraced by telecommunication industry for general tower inspection which is gradually eliminating some aspect of physical inspection. It is cost effective and quick for pre and post evaluation survey of telecom mast by delivering a quality photos and 4k video thereby reduces the unnecessary tower climbing. This can be easily being used for historical comparatives of digital photographs over time. Below are the area where drones can be used:
Tower Inspection and Auditing: For regular checking of tower which provides actionable information for safer, smarter, and faster tower inspection as follows:
- Pre and post construction audits
- Documenting above ground information.
- Visual tower inspection reports
- Infrastructure monitoring like weed growth, bird nest, oil spillage etc
- Count of tenant equipment
Surveying and Mapping: The application in survey and mapping coupled with Global Navigation Satellite System are as follows:
- Boundary survey of new project site
- Detailing of new or existing project site
- Detailing of the environment
- Structural mapping / Asset location
- Topographic survey of project site
- Digital surface model showing the height of building, trees and towers
- Tower Segmentation
- High-resolution imagery, providing stakeholders with the inventory information they need to better track their assets.
- Tower estimated position and orientation with 3D model
- Dimension measure in terms of length, breadth and height information of anything within the site.
- Tank volume calculation.
Damage Assessment of Infrastructure: Drone can be used for pre and post damage assessment as a result of natural disaster or theft in a virtual form.
Thermal / Infrared Imaging
- Detecting rust and corrosion
- Detecting cracks and damages
- For detecting surface radiation
- Heat loss detection
How Can Drone Benefit the Telecom Industry?
Recently, Geospatial Research Limited, a leading drone company in Nigeria was invited by IHS team in Nigeria for discussion for the possibility of leverage of drone for their tower inspection. IHS Towers as the largest mobile telecommunications infrastructure provider in Africa, Europe and the Middle East by tower count and the third largest independent multinational tower company globally with over 16,000 towers in Nigeria see the need for this technology for their business operation in Nigeria. This will reduce the risk involves in their tower climbing and ultimately reduce the cost of tower inspection drastically as detailed below
- Identify and correct hidden problems before they become unplanned outages
- Reduce risk of undetected degradation of components due to overloaded circuits or loose connections
- Cost savings obtained by preventing equipment failures and down time
- Drones eliminate the need for workers to physically access some hostile environment where factors like the wind, waves, weather, height and radiation can lead to accident.
- Drone delivers a high resolution images and 4K video that clearly show cracks, damage, misplaced wires and other defects at elevations and angles that humans cannot.
- Drone is easy and quickly to deployment which are capable of completing inspection segments within 5 to 20 minutes.
- Complex systems like the telecom towers can be used for inspection without interfering with networks.
- Physical inspection is not safe for human health because of the radiative environment which is less risky and safer to use drones in that kind of environment.
- Manual inspections require a payed insurance for tower inspector which are risky as compared to drone insurance which are minimal and cost effective.
- Drones minimize the high cost and time required to access towers which means several towers can be inspected within a day.
Various Assumptions Associated with the Use of Drone
Safety: Drone generally is seen as an aircraft in the aviation industry which are unmanned and the aviation authority see it as threat to bigger plane even though they fly at different height apart
Security: Non-commercial drone can be used to carry heavy and high explosives which can be dangerous to mankind.
Privacy: So long as drone operator is compliance with operational restrictions which are airport, security facilities, and resident or crowded are there are no restrictions regarding overflight in non-residential area
Public Nuisance: Fly drone around always attract people around and sometime very noisy.
In general, drone and aircraft operate at different height and there is no possible collision if you fly in non-restricted area. Also, commercial drone is just a toy for data gathering and with endurance less than one hours as compared to the military drones that can fly thousand kilometres from home point. There are also technical solutions, such as geofencing, that can be used to prevent drones from flying where they should not fly to.
Drone Challenges and Dependencies
- All drones must be license by Civil Aviation Authority. Each country has a legal framework governing the use of drone within the jurisdiction.
- All drones have a limited flight endurance and payload capacity which requires the operator to have several batteries.
- Some drone coverage area may not be good for some hostile environments.
- Electromagnetic interference, which can cause crashes, preferable, drone with zooming capacity will be good for that kind of operation.
Finally, drone technology is a critical tool for tower inspection and monitoring in telecom industry. Geospatial Research Limited has the leading drone company in Nigeria has leverage on drone technology for inspection of powerline, gas line, telecom mast. We are partner with African Goes Digital, SOWIT, Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and Parrot Drone. This company is presently working with an European telecom company for the auditing of telecom mast using drone technology in Nigeria.