Vodafone and Ericsson trialling drones for site upgrades


Vodafone and Ericsson are working together to trial the use of drones and Lidar-based 3D technology to speed up network planning and site upgrades. 

Drones enable surveys of difficult to reach rural and city-centre sites, saving time and money, as well as reducing the potential health and safety risks associated with surveys. With fewer engineers visiting sites, and fewer visits needed thanks to more accurate data being collected on first attempt, Vodafone hopes its carbon footprint will also be reduced.

The trial will use a drone equipped with a high-definition camera, alongside Lidar technology, to capture accurate data that can be used by the network engineering team to perform site upgrades. Vodafone and Ericsson will capture data from 70 different sites that are due to be upgraded.

As part of the process of upgrading a mobile network site, several Vodafone and Ericsson engineers would usually have to travel to the site for data collection and critical assessment purposes. Radio and transmission planners, acquisition agents, structural engineers and site designers would all form part of a standard site visit.

With the assistance of Ericsson’s Intelligent Site Engineering and through the use of drone and Lidar technology, information on structural conditions and line-of-sight measurements can be collected by a single engineer, with all the data captured then accessible via the cloud as a digital twin model.

This digital twin is then used to perform a virtual site meeting, allowing all stakeholders to be on site virtually at the same time from a remote location. This process has already been used as part of Vodafone’s network deployment programme during the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 70 sites visited in this way.

Says Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer, Vodafone UK:

“The introduction of new technology to improve our processes has significant benefits for our own operational efficiencies and reducing our carbon footprint, but it also allows us to deliver on our promise to customers faster. The less time, which is wasted travelling to sites, the more time can be invested in valuable tasks that improve the digital experience for our customers.”

Adds Björn Odenhammar, CTO, Networks & Managed Services, Ericsson UK & Ireland:

“Our partnership with Vodafone to explore the benefits of Intelligent Site Engineering ensures that speed and sustainability are at the heart of our network rollout in the UK together. This is a demonstration of our rapid network delivery capabilities and our commitment to build a world-class digital infrastructure that will bring vital 5G connectivity to new regions, boost innovation and provide a foundation for the UK’s future economic success.”

In the future, drone and Lidar can also assist the team in planning the construction of new infrastructure. Drone imagery can offer insights on the suitability of the site, as well as provide line-of-sight measurements at different heights.  The Lidar technology could be used to build a virtual site to troubleshoot problems ahead of time and assist in the planning and procurement process.


Chris Price
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