Towercos have a legacy data problem that gets worse over time, with every subsequent site update. Over their lifecycle, towers undergo a myriad of planned and unplanned changes. Equipment is upgraded. Structures are reinforced. Steel rusts, twists and cracks. What is built is rarely what is designed, and as time passes, legacy data moves farther from the truth.
While inspections do happen, data collection is isolated to a specific part of the tower (ie, second RAD NE side), and collected in a format that is difficult to ingest and rarely accessible across stakeholders. Add to this fact that towers frequently change ownership and are visited by a diversity of third-party vendors, and it’s easy to see how maintaining up-to-date tower data is so difficult.
This is why drones are so interesting. They capture data on the entire tower structure (not just an isolated area), they digitize the site and quantify its attributes (not just photos and a written report), and they do so faster and cheaper than the traditional truck roll (so more data and more often).
Value or volume – the false choice.
But – There are hundreds of variations of drones and sensors, and not every duo is cable of collecting the same quality of 3d data. When collecting tower data, towercos often falsely believe they must choose between highly scalable off-the-shelf drones or more capable enterprise systems – or volume versus value.
On one end of the spectrum, the standard hobbyist-class drone is designed for scale. They are simple to use, affordable, and readily available. However, the sensors on these drones are low-grade, flight time and performance are poor, standoff distance from the tower is dangerous, and issues like EMI interference and GPS drift are more common. Importantly, the class of data these drones produce is constrained to centimeter accuracy, and thus limited to inspection use cases.
On the other hand, professional-class drones are designed to deliver value. While more costly and requiring specialized training, these drones can carry adaptable payloads with improved resolution, better flight performance in challenging conditions, safer flight profiles, and the resulting data offers much better resolution and coverage. This class of drone and sensor is capable of millimeter-accurate Reality Models that can be used to update existing Design Models*, unlocking new forms of automation that apply to Engineering operations also.
This dichotomy creates a false choice for Telecom companies – “Do I need an Inspection or Engineering class drone data collection?”