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What does the future of data capture for vertical infrastructure look like?

In the digital age, isn't there a better way to document assets with the quality and fidelity needed to support an industry tasked to connect every Canadian by the end of 2030?! I am talking about telecommunications and vertical infrastructure management. So, is there a better way to capture what is in the field and document, visualize, make decisions, and act against this data for future activities? Yes. There is.

Technology can change the face of so many industries and infrastructure management for telecommunications is no different. Drones with high quality sensors can capture vertical infrastructure in the field like never before. Combine these digital information products with a cloud-based GIS environment for the visualization and operational support of said assets, well now...a better way is here. Let's explore the ways spatially enabled tools, for the field and the office, can help support the telecommunications industry as it strives towards bridging the digital divide!

The Canadian government understands the importance of telecommunication infrastructure to the overall health of the country’s economy. One could argue that connectivity has a direct relationship to economic prosperity, among other things, and so, the drive to connect every Canadian citizen with affordable and reliable connectivity has begun. To help push this along, the provincial and federal governments of Canada have been supplying funding to those willing to build in every province and territory.

This won't be an easy task, no. Reaching rural Canadians will be one of the most difficult attempts at connectivity in the telecom sector because of the sheer size of Canada, as a country, and the communities spotted along its landscape. Operators understand this and are looking to deliver services in rural settings using any combination of technologies to get them there, with a heavy focus on wireless delivery for the access network.

With millions of dollars being pushed into the development of telecommunication infrastructure, the importance of telecommunication technology and the physical assets that are used to stand this technology up are in the spotlight. Cellular, fixed wireless access, and even satellite solutions are going to be needed to help connect rural Canada. The importance of wireless site management for carriers and tower operators is greater, perhaps, than it has ever been before because of the need to maintain continuous service to remote Canadians.

With the critical nature of this wireless connectivity and the physical infrastructure to support it, the quality of design and documentation in high fidelity is going to have to be "next level". And this is ok, because the digital technology for asset management of telecommunication infrastructure has come a long way. Now is the time to leverage next generation productivity tools to help document and manage these communication sites with the fidelity needed to be cost effective while helping to maintain a level of continuous service that every Canadian needs.

What types of next gen tools are out there that can help service providers and operators manage these sites with ease, confidence, and the data quality they need? It all starts with tools in the field using spatial solutions to help document and inspect these vertical assets. Think drones! Think GIS!

A horizon view of a wireless telecommunication tower rising above a forested landscape.

Data Collection

As I said, it all starts in the field. Once engineering teams identify site locations, the construction and documentation of these sites will begin, and in earnest! 10s, 100s, heck, even 1,000s of new and existing sites will need be erected and augmented to help drive connectivity deeper into the rural landscape. It is important that these sites are documented with the level of fidelity that will allow service providers and tower operators the ability to reference site documentation with ease, while having confidence in the quality of documentation.

Providing teams with an understanding of what’s out there, who owns it, and what type of work needs to be done, without having to physically go to the site, is powerful. This can be done with tools like Site Scan for ArcGIS or ArcGIS Drone2Map in combination with the latest in drone hardware. Site Scan is Esri's end-to-end cloud-based drone mapping software designed to make imagery data collection, processing, and analysis easier than ever before! Drone2Map is a desktop tool to support some of those offline scenarios that organizations might encounter when documenting tower assets in remote areas. In either case, these tools allow tower operators, service providers, and engineering firms with the tools needed to capture the tower and related telecom assets with high fidelity. Ortho images, video, point clouds, and 3D meshes are just some of the common information products that can be generated by these spatially enabled tools. The result: high fidelity documentation of critical telecommunication infrastructure.

A drone scanning a tower platform and surrounding wireless antennas.

Asset Management

Now that the data has been collected in the field and the information products for each of these tower sites have been created, they need to be catalogued somewhere so that service providers and tower operators can revisit them to support future activities. How can this be done? Massive datasets and specialized tools to view and make sense of these datasets is needed, right? Not necessarily.

To the single drone application specialist in the organization, sure, sharing raw data following a project is fine, but what about the rest of the organization? The service providers? Municipal, provincial, and federal governments? How can they easily access the data that was collected in the field for future collaboration and operational activities? This is where ArcGIS Online comes into play. Again, using cloud-based, spatially enabled technology to help catalogue these tower assets in geographic space is an excellent approach.

It's also good to note that sharing the results of field data collection from Site Scan and Drone2Map to an ArcGIS Online environment is easier than ever before. Once these tower sites are pushed to ArcGIS Online, the ability to visualize the results with anyone who needs access is super easy. All you need is a modern web browser and voila!...a 3D catalogue of every telecom tower site across the country. All you need is a web browser to visualize and interact with these high-fidelity scans. It's so easy to do. Seriously!

A 3D GIS web application showing wireless tower assets and the associated attributes.

Remote Engineering

So, we have documented our wireless site locations using spatially enabled drone mapping applications in the field. We have catalogued this high-quality information and shared it with those that need access to it. Now what can we do with this data? This is probably one of the most attractive aspects of the ArcGIS Online ecosystem as it can help support remote engineering activities and provide pre-mission planning prior to going out to the field.

With ArcGIS Online, tower operators and service providers can view the tower location in 3D and generate navigation to the site for site access. They can clearly see what type of equipment is deployed at the site. They can use interactive measurement tools to know the height of the tower, the platforms, and the antennas that are fastened to the tower. They can see the actual hardware used to attach equipment to the tower with millimeter level accuracy! All of this can be done in the office to help with the preplanning of tower inspections. Preparation is probably the most important part of the safety plan for tower technicians. ArcGIS Online and the catalogue of tower details is a great way to prepare for any type of field efforts that must happen down the road. Save time, money, and increase safety awareness. Oh, and did I mention all you need is a web browser? No GIS experience needed. Yup. It's true.

A 3D GIS web application showing a measurement tool highlighting the height of a wireless tower.

There has been an awakening of sorts around the importance of telecommunications and its impact to modern society. With telecommunication infrastructure thrusted into the spotlight, governments are pushing to connect every Canadian before the end of 2030! No simple task, but something that I believe is achievable. With a goal as lofty as this, the effort needed to deliver is heavy. Service providers and tower operators will need next gen asset management tools to document and catalogue this infrastructure with high fidelity and be able to access it easily to support remote engineering and inspection purposes. Starting in the field, to the office, and back again, the ArcGIS ecosystem of spatially enabled solutions for telecommunication asset management is needed. Do it differently. Do it better. Location technology is key.

About the Author

Sergio Palladini is the Industry Manager for Telecommunications at Esri Canada. He is focused on illustrating the importance of geospatial technology as it applies to the telecommunications industry. Sergio has significant experience in helping telecommunication operators around the world see the value of location intelligence and spatial analytics for enhanced decision support across their enterprise. He holds an undergraduate degree from Queen's University and a master's degree in Geographic Information Systems from the University of Calgary.

Profile Photo of Sergio Palladini