Unnamed aerial vehicles (UAVs), colloquially known as drones, are emerging as the worker bees of South Africa’s mobile telecommunications industry.
That’s according to Philip Smerkovitz, MD of enterprise-class UAV consultant and distributor TeleEye SA. “Few of South Africa’s 35-million cellular users realise that the buzzing of drones around mobile towers helps ensure a quality mobile voice and data experience,” he says.
That’s because a properly outfitted drone can identify fine base station defects at high altitude. It can eliminate the need for technical personnel to physically operate at high altitude in the rough and demanding terrain where much mobile infrastructure is located. UAVs can also safely check if base station components are missing, birds have nested on sensitive equipment and antennas remain at the correct tilt angle.
The increasingly competitive mobile industry that has seen voice interconnection rates, in particular, plunge to their lowest levels ever, has also placed tremendous pressure on GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) engineers to ensure maximum base station uptime. “If a base station goes down, there’s huge pressure to get it up and running really fast. Climbing up a base station is inefficient, flying up a base station is efficient,” Smerkovitz explains.
Concerns over worker safety, too, are helping to drive the adoption of drones in mobile base station inspections to new heights. “The Wall Street Journal wrote about this trend in utilities well over two years ago and now it’s finally making its way to South African shores,” says Smerkovitz.
TeleEye SA can advise cellular networks on the most appropriate professional UAV hardware and aerial photogrammetry software for their particular mobile maintenance application. The company says there are several requirements for an effective inspection drone.
The first is realtime kinematic (RTK) visual technology to enable precision flying, the second is dual camera configuration for both optical and thermal viewing, the third is an upwards-facing camera for inspection under objects and finally, an IP43 rating which certifies the drone for flight in adverse weather conditions.
TeleEye SA can advise maintenance professionals on UAV survey solution bundles with mobile-specific capabilities. These include DJI’s new enterprise-class drones, Datumate’s mission planning apps and software solutions tailored to GSM engineers’ professional needs. However, it’s a challenge to source quality UAV equipment that also carries local warranties.
“We recently launched South Africa’s first online portal dedicated to the disruptive application of DJI UAVs, aerial application software and accessories across key economic sectors that include utilities. GoUAV.co.za provides the most appropriate DJI drone hardware and software solutions from leading developers that go beyond the amateur hobbyist’s requirements,” concludes Mr Smerkovitz.