Recognized as one of the founding fathers of the global tower industry, Ted Miller has now turned his attention to drones and the digitalization of the sector to address some of the big issues that towercos still face 25 years on from his founding of Crown Castle. As manufacturers of the first drone sensor technology to provide millimeter accuracy, and with a unique partnership in place with Bentley, Visual Intelligence is set to revolutionize the way that towercos operate and do business.
Not much has changed since I founded Crown Castle in 1994 with respect to how tower infrastructure is managed. At the same time, there is now a network of millions of towers worldwide, tower equipment has gained in weight and size as we’ve moved from 2G to 5G, and new technological advancements are coming quickly with the advent of autonomy and edge compute.
Twenty-five years later, the industry is still using many of the same manual and redundant processes to inspect towers, and we still suffer from data that was either not accurate to begin with or has become corrupted over time due to M&A activity, changes in engineering firms, or staff turnover. We’re using the same towers as we were 25-30 years ago too, many of which were never designed to support the 4G and 5G loads that have been placed on them and who have seen design modifications that have been engineered on using inaccurate legacy data. These issues are then exacerbated across the enterprise because information isn’t shared seamlessly across one trusted source. Therefore, leasing revenue and equipment installations are unduly delayed because of antiquated processes and lack of information. All this leads to enterprise-wide inefficiencies and increasing OPEX and CAPEX expenditures.
This industry, like so many other industries, is prime for digitization.
However, the tower industry doesn’t need another drone solution for inspection that provides pictures, video and 3D models that have no long-term value and that cannot be used for engineering analysis. While field operations are overdue for an update – so too is engineering, finance, legal, maintenance, insurance, leasing – you name it. Drone inspections are without a doubt better and safer than manual, but these solutions don’t save a truck roll. Any time a tower modification must take place, tower loading and capacity must be understood. And to perform a structural analysis, you must first have a millimeter-accurate dimensional map of the tower structure and mounts. The problem is that the “survey-grade” sensors on off-the-shelf drones today were never designed to capture better than centimeter-accuracy. So, while drone data is useful for gaining quick visibility of sites, it doesn’t yet eliminate the need for a team to mobilize or a climber to ascend a tower to collect engineering-grade measurements. In the case of the tower industry, the minimum level of detail that must be achieved before digital twins can provide engineering, enterprise-wide value is millimeter accuracy.
This is missing in the drone industry and the problem we solve with Visual Intelligence using proprietary scientific drone technologies (and not hobbyist toys).