Drones Invade Wireless

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So today let’s talk drones for wireless work. I see many possibilities for drones to really play a big part in the deployments. So, I have a few scenarios that I would like to play out.


Optimization drones, a thing of the future? No, here today and being used now! I thought I heard everything but now Nokia, (whom is taking over Alcatel-Lucent) is working on using drones for LTE optimization. How cool is that? Boy, Rajeev Suri must be a cool guy to authorize the use of drones! Nokia has been using them for tower inspections in the Middle East and now there is talk of using them for optimization. While they are not doing it here in the USA it is being done. It is only a matter of time before we see it here. Can you imagine how efficient testing will be when the drone can do all the tests? Don’t believe me that it’s being done? Go to this link! You will see that they are doing it in Dubai! If interested in looking it up the web look here and here and here.

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Optimizing drones would have GPS tracking and RF devices, probably smart phones on it to track coverage and performance. Basically a Smartphone that would transfer data and track the upload and download speeds automatically. Then it would send the information up to the cloud so some server could work with it to make adjustments as needed, or the adjustments would be made manually, most likely version at this time. Knocking down the coverage teams to one guy and a drone and automating the process. Now these files are huge, so make sure the data plan can handle it or make sure you have Wi-Fi access. They may just relay it back down to the engineer’s laptop so that person can put it all together.

How great would this be to not have to deal with traffic? This could really be more efficient with the addition of small cells, oDAS, iDAS, and mini-macro sites being deployed because you could concentrate the optimization with the hassle of walking, driving, and trying to hit all of the areas. I know most of the carriers are trying to automate this as much as possible by using PCMD data so who knows how much this will be needed beyond deployment in the future.


So for the inspecting towers it was obvious that they would put cameras on the drones and document what they find. Of course it would take a drone with a camera and a good pilot to make sure that they get the proper pictures. This would entail getting the right pictures and following the close out or site survey plan. You save the time of having a climber go up in the air. You get the documentation in one quick shot with one person on site. You get all of this in a timely and safe manner. Even the FAA is getting on board with it. Can anyone do it, maybe? I am actually a fan of making sure they are certified so that you don’t have some clown out there buzzing the college girls. If they have their certification to lose then maybe they will be careful and professional. Remember, I worked in the field, I know all the complaints I had to deal with when my crews said or did something stupid. The FAA article is here. This is where some GoPro cameras would really come in handy to monitor and record all that is being done. You could grab a snapshot from the video and then you’re done.

Now, on any of this you need to take video and record your results. I would like to think that Field Dailies will come out with a package to help us out. They already have close out packages. I am an affiliate of Field Dailies but I think they are great regardless. So if you go to http://www.fielddailies.com/field-solutions/ you will see that you can go right from your smart phone to the cloud to complete the closeout package. All in one shot while in the field it will be ready for you. I am a fan of efficiency and they made it really efficient. So go in and request a demo and let them know that Wade sent you. What do you have to lose? Just think if you have a drone to go out, survey the tower, then from your laptop or Smartphone you get the pictures and upload them from your truck, then you are almost finished! Imagine how much time you would save and how efficient you would be? Wouldn’t that be great?

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I also like using the drones for safety inspections out at sites while work is being performed at the site. However, it seems that no one in the industry shares that excitement. I would say that less than .001% of anyone out there has any interest in doing safety inspections.  Teaching safety is something that everyone is on board with, but no one wants to measure the results. The only measurement we have is when someone dies. Why would anyone care when it cost money and then reality would set in that not everyone is trained properly or responsible, but that is another story.

Future Ideas!

I also think that we could use drones to test microwave paths. This has not been cleared but it seems like the best use of drones. Again, you would need clearance and you would need to get FAA approval. So far we don’t have it because, as I understand it, you can only fly over people that know what is going on for business. Now it seems that for fun you can fly anywhere any time, but there will be a crackdown on some of this. It also seems that public safety can fly them anywhere they wish and take pictures. But for tower work, we will wait for the FAA to approve it. Once they do how cool would it be to fly a 2 mile link to make sure there is nothing in the path? I think that would be the greatest to verify a path. If a building goes up then you know right then! Trust me, I used to do path calculations all the time and I used to drive paths to be sure they were clear. I also did some spotting to verify LOS but it gets harder on long paths and many times the tower owner doesn’t want anyone on their tower unless they are inspecting or installing. So then you drive the path. If only I had a drone to fly the path.

What about small cell and DAS inspections? I think that you could knock out streets at a time by flying the drone about 30 to 50 feet AGL and then going around the streets. You could also verify the paths from the pole to a building, so you could plan out your build in an urban area, if the FAA would allow you to do it. These are populated streets. If you were disciplined then you would not interfere with any air space but you need to let the local authorities know what is going on because they would see it as a threat. That is until Amazon gets the approvals to make deliveries using drones. Then we can need traffic control.

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As far as the drone pilots go, I really think you need to be certified. I just think that the pilots should take the flying seriously. Like I implied above I don’t think we should have some prankster who looks at it as a fun time and not a serious job to be out there acting stupid, that’s all. If you ever worked in the field then you know what I am talking about. I think that this will create new business out there and make all of the above services more efficient and cost-effective.

Why should professionals fly drones? Here’s why:




What do you think?

Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!

I am putting a small cell wireless deployment handbook together, it should be out soon. It will be geared towards deployment but a good reference overall. It will have most of what I post but also some extra notes is it.  If your interested, feel free to sign up for my newsletter below.

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