By J. Sharpe Smith —
A number of applications for drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the wireless industry came to light this year — everything from asset auditing, RF planning and line-of-sight testing between radio towers. And companies were formed to use them.
It all began in April when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began granting exceptions to its rules to allow the use of commercial drones.
One of the first companies to get an exception was Solusia Air, which wanted to use UAS to perform asset audits and safety inspections for wireless and utility infrastructure firms.
Solusia Air attaches video, still and infrared cameras and other instruments on Leica Geosystems’ Aibot X6 multi-copters, which it then flies around the cell tower. The multi-copter has six rotors encased in a carbon fiber frame and a maximum payload of 4.4 pounds. The inspections produces high-definition photo and video inspection, asset audits, RF microwave path validation, intermodulation/interference identification and safety assessments.
In July, Nokia Networks employed drones carrying smartphones to analyze the wireless network at Dubai International Stadium. The drones gathered network data and provided key performance indicators at the stadium, which seats 25,000, and were also used for tower inspections, radio planning and line-of-sight testing between radio towers.
The INSPIRE1 drone was used for network optimization at the stadium, and Microdrones md4-1000 was used for tower inspection, LoS and radio site planning. With automated testing, drones can cover the desired area more quickly than a manual test. Additionally, the test data is sent to a server at Nokia Networks’ Global Delivery Center so that it can be processed and reported to the engineers in the field, who then improve network performance in a timely fashion.
In October, Sentera, a UAS designer and manufacturer, brought its knowledge in acquisition and management of image-based data to the wireless industry.
Sentera, which initially worked with military systems, launched a mobile app and desktop client that provide the ability to analyze image data and a record of the location, date, time, and asset type. Photos are then presented in a searchable map view. Sentera began developing the product after it was approached by a tower company that had an abundance of images of its towers but no way to organize them and fully utilize them.
In September 32 Advisors spun off a drone-as-a-service company, Measure, and then in December it hired Chris Moccia, former CEO for Solusia Air, to serve as vice president of infrastructure.
“Measure’s Drone as a Service model allows cellular tower owners and operators to use drones for inspections without making a heavy capital investment,” said Measure CEO Brandon Torres Declet. “Chris’s skill set combines his experience as a businessman and industry expert with a keen ability to navigate emerging technology markets. With his leadership, Measure will help companies with vertical infrastructure realize the benefit of incorporating drones into their operations.”
Government regulators and industry associations engaged with the drone industry. The National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) established a UAS committee, which will monitor the trends and regulatory environment associated with UAS technologies. Additionally, it will make recommendations to NATE members on best practices concerning UAS integration. NATE has also participate in the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) meetings on Unmanned Aerial Systems that have been held in Washington, D.C.