Vodafone and Ericsson use drones and Lidar to virtualise mobile site upgrades

Phone mast
(Image credit: Vodafone)

Vodafone and Ericsson are using drones and Lidar technology to virtualise the process for planning network deployment and site upgrades to make it safer, more efficient, and less damaging to the environment.

Traditional approaches to network construction require a party of structural engineers, radio and transmission planners, acquisition agents, and site designers to travel to the site to collect data and conduct an assessment.

This increases the time and money required to build infrastructure, while the amount of travel increases carbon emissions. In any case, such a gathering has proved challenging during the pandemic.

5G speed record

Vodafone and Ericsson’s trial of drones equipped with high-definition cameras and Lidar technology – which uses lasers to scan sites in a similar fashion to radar – will allow these site visits to be carried out by a single engineer.

Data is fed into a cloud-based ‘Digital Twin’ – a virtual representation of a physical environment. This allows engineers and planners to collaborate in real time from any location and simulate how any changes will affect the site or the network.

There is no need to climb towers, improving health and safety, while more accurate data reduces the need for repeat visits. Vodafone hopes the use of the technology will reduce CO2 emissions by 1.5 tonnes per 100 sites, while anything that reduces costs is always welcomed by operators who are investing significantly in 5G.

The first phase of the trial will see the system used to capture data from 70 sites due to be upgraded in the near future.

"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,” said Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer at Vodafone UK. “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."

“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,” added Björn Odenhammar, CTO, Networks & Managed Services, Ericsson UK & Ireland. “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.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.