Telecom towers seem to have become a part and parcel of the global skyline, ever since they first announced their presence some years back. As they drive essential services across the globe, these telecom tower companies have become an industry in their own right.
Located at a single location, they play host to multiple telecom operators, besides hosting broadcasting services such as radio and television. Hence, for essential services not to be impacted it is important that the telecom tower companies work uninterruptedly.
When the world was in the grip of the pandemic, with the economy taking a severe beating, telcos were just about able to keep their heads above water. This was mostly because of remote working model companies adopted, which resulted in a surge in individual data demand in 2020. Average in-home data usage in the U.S. increased by 18% compared to 2019. Suddenly finding themselves as custodians of business continuity, telcos had to ensure smooth and uninterrupted network connectivity.
But the challenges were one too many, the core among them being:
• Availability and mobility of workforce
• Restricted physical access to telecom towers
• Restricted movement of spares and assets
• Negligible visibility on current state of operations
These challenges were certainly not the only flies in the ointment – technological issues compounded the problem. We believe, the right mix of innovative solutions and digital technologies can help tower companies address these challenges.
Innovative solutions would pertain to accurate measurement and surveillance of data exchange between tower assets and central tower operation centers, data-driven operations, and the use of artificial intelligence to predict forthcoming events and possible faults. What will also help is forming a consortium of combined tickets for one single location to minimize access, enabling the landlord to provide solutions, and facilitating community support to enable information of the tower.
Riding the next-gen wave
Tower companies will also need to rely on sophisticated IoT and intelligent technology solutions to monitor and control operations.
The key enablers for this will be deployment of the right sensors to capture telemetry data and its uninterrupted transport to the control center, with control systems connected to telemetry in order to manage the assets, along with physical and parametric surveillance mechanisms.
But monitoring alone will not help; real-time data capture is also vital. IoT-based solutions involve mounting sensors anywhere on the tower which includes door, fuel tanks, energy meters, fire alarms, and inventory. These sensors collect and transmit real-time information to the tower operation center (TOC), ensuring smooth operations and infrastructure safety without much reliance on manual intervention.
To ignore next-gen solutions will therefore be akin to taking a myopic view of the situation. The key technologies tower companies must focus on are:
a) AI/ ML and automation-led cognitive operations
Telecom tower companies should use cognitive technologies to not only predict future problems, but also take AI/ML-led intelligent and automated preventive actions. For instance, fire incidents may cause downtime and interrupt tower uptime. By using cognitive operations, fire incidents can be predicted well in advance; in fact, preventive actions can be taken to avert them. This will not only increase tower uptime, but will reduce opex too.
b) Drone based monitoring
Automated drones can be used for aerial inspection of towers. They can be programmed for autonomous flights which is quite useful in monitoring towers built at remote locations.
By leveraging drone-led tower inspection, critical announcements for employees and the public at large can be easily made. Besides, drones can be used to spray disinfectants on tower resources and warehouses, and can also be used as fire extinguishers. They can therefore play a vital role in maintaining health and safety of employees involved in critical business and field operation roles, besides keeping vandalism at bay.
c) Robotic process automation (RPA)
By using RPA for tower maintenance, tasks can be automatically assigned to automated and intelligent robots. Backed by machine learning technologies, these robots can imbibe the knowledge gained over repetitive tasks. Various tasks such as invoice processing, event-based maintenance, trigger required action on payment or revenue default, backup and recovery processes, dispute handling with landlords and vendors can be resolved by RPA, thereby reducing operational costs.
d) Robotic arms to fix issues
Robotic arms can be developed which can climb on towers and fix physical damages, if any. Aerial inspections done by drone can identify the issue which can be fixed and rectified by robots (remotely managed), or robotic arm installed on the drone itself.
To summarize, telecom tower companies need to transform their ways of working. Rather than depend on physical access at the tower, they need to bring in next-gen technology solutions to overcome operational challenges and enhance process efficiencies.