June 30, 2015 — Telecoms companies can save time and significant operation costs when inspecting mobile communication towers with drones, according to Jeffrey Leentjes, network specialist at T-Mobile.
T-Mobile, who took delivery of the Altura Zenith UAV system this week, tested it near the Galgenwaard football stadium in Utrecht and discovered inspections that can take up to seven days with cherry pickers and a team of technicians took far less time with drones.
Leentjes, who has been assessing the Zenith during extensive phone mast inspections, said: "We did a pilot test at the stadium in Utrecht where we checked our flat panel antenna masts. Normally it would take a week with a cherry picker taking pictures and doing checks. In this pilot we flew around the stadium in 15 minutes using HD video on the drone. It was a significant time and cost-saving exercise."
With mobile data, the number of devices on towers are rising fast and the demand for inspections is increasing. There are some jobs that only technical staff can do on cell towers but companies realise many tasks that keep the mobile network running need not put lives at risk. In 2014, the industry had 12 mobile tower fatalities.
Jeffrey said: "We want to create the best network in The Netherlands. We have 5,000 antennas located in very dense areas in the Netherlands. These antennas need to be inspected regularly.
"It's about the quality of the network. The feeders or connectors into the antennas need to be connected correctly or things might change in the set-up, therefore we need to make sure our network is in shape and provides the best data for our clients.”
T-Mobile uses the Aerialtronics drone as it offers a safe, cost-effective and easily deployable alternative to traditional methods. The HD camera, equipped with thermal sensors and transmitters to share the information, produces high resolution images with the cameras even showing the part numbers which may need replacing. Another benefit of drones is that it can often operate in poor weather conditions such as rain and high winds.
Jeffrey said: "Climbing towers can be restricted by the weather conditions. We would utilise the drone a lot more than the current set up. We also used a mobile device to test the handover between the different antennas, which delivered good results.
"Most of the advantages concern safety. For example, using climbers or cherry pickers for the inspection can be a risky business, but with drones it is less hazardous for inspectors.
"Speed is also a big advantage. By carrying out inspections faster, it can be financially beneficial. Whereas we normally have to rent a cherry picker for three weeks or longer, if you have the drone set up already, you can do it in a more flexible way.
“Aerialtronics provides a detachable gimbal where we can switch devices quickly. Next to that safety is important of course. We also wanted a system that is fully approved by the authorities, can fly under different conditions and is robust.
"The fact that we are stepping into drone technology creates an opportunity to look at the development of the service. I think, in telecoms in general, there will be more utilisation of drone technology in future. For T-Mobile and Deutsche Telecom it's very good to get the experience with Aerialtronics at such an early stage.”
Aerialtronics is an international manufacturer of state of the art, high quality unmanned aircraft systems for civilian purposes. We provide full aerial data solutions to a variety of applications worldwide. Aerialtronics’ systems are designed and developed in-house according to aviation grade quality standards. Aerialtronics defines the future of unmanned aircraft systems.