Before you install any new equipment on a tower, you first need to know what you’ve already got and accurately verify the space and capacity for the new equipment you or your partners want to install. Doing this manually, in the case of 5G installations takes 14 days per site. The machine learning, computer vision, AI and end-to-end engineering workflows that Inspection² have developed are a powerful combination that have reduced that install time from 14 days to just 4, delivering a complete transformation in terms of speed with significant revenue upsides to boot.
Automation reduces 5G install time
Drones, satellite – whichever the preferred capture method – can be used to collect the data from a site. But then what do you do with that data? Typically, it would be entered in a system and a CAD drawing produced. Tilt angles and azimuth would be calculated and entered, and a report manually created. When operating at scale, any manual management, sorting, filing or analysis of data takes time and that is why the previous install time for 5G was 14 days.
Working with one of the world’s largest telco vendors, we have reduced this to just 4. So how have we achieved this?
When it comes to site audits and report generation, we begin by automating the manual elements of the process such as the data upload to our cloud, folder sorting and critical calculations (which are not only faster but more accurate). A key part of the process is the creation of a digital twin model – a complete 3D replica of the site – with optical character reading so we can assess the exact make and model of antenna and other equipment. You can actually go inside the cabin and see what’s already in there, and get all the information without even setting foot in a car and driving to site. We give our customers a choice of 8 different Digital Twin types. We also switch on proprietary defect detection AI modules to give early warning of any degradation of the equipment. Finally, automate the report creation – in total reducing the report creation time from 5 days down to 1.5 for every site.
Imagine the savings on 23,000 sites…
Now imagine that an average tower company has 23,000 sites. Some operators have many more than this across a global asset base and in fact at present we are seeing a macro trend towards consolidation – whether you consider Vodafone and Vantage Towers, or American Tower or Cellnex to name a few. What this means is that average number of sites is going up.
For now though, sticking to the example of 23,000 towers, revenue will be in the region of £315 – £320 million. To generate site reports, you are looking at 3-5 days of survey, preparation, mapping and installation plus 3-5 re-visits due to inaccuracies. We can reduce that to 1.5 days – saving 34,000-man days – which if you work on a 230 day year working pattern, is the equivalent of 148 full-time employees. In the UK, that is an immediate £12 million saving.
Millions (£) saving
Automation that generates revenue
We mentioned the macro-trend for the consolidation of tower companies and assets, and this puts increasing pressure on those expanded companies to monetize their investment and generate revenue. If you’re raising lots of debt to buy up lots of companies, you’ve got to service that with free cash flow fairly quickly. So, in addition to using automation to decrease delivery times (supporting the race to deliver 5G infrastructure) tower companies also need a way to drive top line revenue.
Through talking to C-level executives, we found out that the current level of inventory accuracy is around 90%. (Most likely lower for owner-operators and potentially higher for some independent tower companies.) What that means is that there’s a 10% variance. Going back to our fictional example of a tower company with 23,000 sites, with revenues around £315 million – a 10% variance is £31.5 million. On a conservative estimate and based on real data, we will target a 5% improvement through better inventory accuracy, which would give £16 million in top line revenue.
So, as we’ve already said our technology can save a business of that size £12 million through the automation of its site audit and report processes and in addition, give a further £16 million of revenue, a total of £28 million. So by digitizing your physical assets, you actually build an incredible resource. And it doesn’t end there. Savings are manifested in other critical ways, including supporting the drive to net zero carbon. Through fewer site visits and truck rolls our example company would also be saving at least a hundred tonnes of CO2 per year.
Those who succeed in the race for 5G will be the ones who have monetized quickly and intelligent automation such as the technology we have developed and optimized over time, helps tower companies and telcos to deploy faster and to monetize their tower assets to their fullest capacity. In essence, an engineering tool to enable the expert telco engineer to do what they need to do, be it for compliance or upgrade or audit that delivers significant savings and top line revenue in the process.