No one doubts the importance of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to the future of tower site services, but they have reportedly been slow on the uptake. RDF Wireless hopes to change that. The firm has introduced a suite of tower site inspection services that combine visual inspection and safety inspection with RF signal analysis — all performed from a fleet of drones.
“It is impressive the amount of technology that can be attached to a drone that is coming out. It is not just a camera any more,” said Phil Larsen, formerly of Hazon Solutions, who has been developing multiple applications with Tom Brinkoetter at RDF Wireless for the last year.
The problem Larsen and Brinkoetter were trying to solve was the lack of visibility that tower owners and carriers have into amount of equipment tenants have installed on towers, as well as the performance of that equipment.
“Finding out what is on the tower can be done from the ground, but finding out the exact location of the antenna and the precise signal must be done from the air,” Larsen said.
A Gyro-Stabilized SONY 30x zoom high resolution camera is used to record equipment labels on the tower.
RDF Wireless serves several verticals on the RF side with algorithms that pinpoint which antenna is producing which signal, the exact frequency, the dB level at the antenna and how far it goes before it drops or is handed off to another antenna.
The key to providing these RF signal services is attaching an analyzer to the UAV. In this case, the drone is equipped with an Anritsu MS2760A spectrum analyzer to capture spectrum data from 9 kHz to 70 GHz at altitude.
“We needed to give people a good understanding of the RF environment and the way to do that is attach the signal analyzing equipment to the drone,” Larsen said. “Through algorithms and artificial intelligence, you can make better decisions in regard to whether you can add another antenna to the tower or rooftop or if you need to turn down a system because there is too much RF saturation.”
For RF safety surveys, RDF Wireless adds calibrated antennas to provide RF field strength versus location from 700 MHz to 2.5 GHz. “It creates the knowledge of the cumulative RF effect on a tower or rooftop, of multiple antennas in an area,” Larsen said.
As opposed to RF signal propagation surveys performed from the ground that are simply projected analysis, RDF Wireless performs extremely accurate 3D site spectrum surveys.
“The carriers want to know that their antennas are propagating correctly, their output is exactly what they expected, and the signal is reaching the locations as was intended,” Larsen said. “With this knowledge, the carriers can make better informed decisions on the integrity of a structure after a storm.” Drones can also be used more accurately perform environmental PIM hunting.
RDF Wireless sells the RF Site Inspection product to services companies, integrates the solution and provides a course to certify the users. Drone services can be purchased through Dave Anthony, manager at Anthony Contracting & Consulting.
J. Sharpe Smith is senior editor of the AGL eDigest. He joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence. Click here to contact him.