American Tower has entered a multi-year alliance with PrecisionHawk to perform wireless infrastructure inspections by integrating drone technology and AI-powered analytics. PrecisionHawk created an autonomous drone flight, 3D mapping and analysis software portfolio for cell tower inspections, which will be used to inspect the 41,000 wireless communications tower facilities owned by American Tower in the United States, with potential to expand to its more than 183,000 sites worldwide.
“With this alliance, we are introducing a superior method of inspection that we believe will become the industry standard and revolutionize our customers’ experience, leading to faster deployment of new wireless technologies,” said Eric Dudek, American Tower VP of network operations.
With a platform that improves their accuracy, efficiency, and safety, American Tower will be able to conduct detailed equipment analyses, enabling proactive maintenance, inventory reconciliation, and precise servicing.
American Tower selected PrecisionHawk in 2018 and has completed thousands of inspections since 2019. Guided by American Tower, PrecisionHawk created an end-to-end solution tailored to the wireless communications infrastructure industry, including PrecisionFlight Tower, which is an autonomous drone flight application, and PrecisionAnalytics Tower, which is a web-based 3D analysis and modeling tool for towers.
Patrick Lohman, PrecisionHawk VP of telecommunications & energy solutions, said, “Drawing on American Tower’s expertise, our solution was developed to meet the comprehensive needs of the wireless communications industry by enriching asset inventory and inspection data. In turn, this data empowers both facility owners and carriers to improve the reliability of their networks and meet their increasing demands for connectivity.”
NATE Supports Drone Use for Towers
NATE strongly believes that commercial unmanned aerial system (UAS) technology, known as drones, are an important tool for the communications contractor industry because of the safety and efficiency that is associated with it, according to Todd Schlekeway, president and CEO of NATE: the communications infrastructure contractor association.
“We have our finger on the pulse of UAS in the tower industry,” he said. “This announcement could be a sign of future agreements. Given the layers in our industry, from carrier to tower owner, general contractor and subcontractor, any type of standardization is a positive.”
NATE’s UAS committee created a UAS operations best practices advisory last year, which was a 40-page document to educate the industry on drone use around communication towers.
Schlekeway envisions a day where every tower crew has a drone and uses it to do a pre-climb inspection and a close out package at the end of a job. However, the cost of the insurance required for drone use can be prohibitive to the contractor. And there is still some reluctance from the tower ecosystem to the flying of drones around a tower structure.
“These are great technology tools for the industry to use,” Schlekeway said. “They’re not a replacement for the technicians. They’re a powerful supplemental tool that can be used to make work safer and more efficient.”
The most recent focus for NATE’s UAS committee has been to monitor and help with the formulation of the Federal Aviation Administration’s new remote ID rule, which requires each drone to have a unique ID number to be allowed to fly over people. It is slated to go into effect in March.