Working with Ericsson, the UK operator is trialling drones using Lidar technology to perform mobile site inspections

Vodafone UK have announced today that they will be using drones to help inspect their infrastructure in hard to reach areas, both in rural areas and in urban centres. 
The drones will be equipped with a high definition camera and Lidar technology that uses lasers to judge an object’s scale. The data captured will allow for the creation of a so-called ‘digital twin’ using Ericsson’s technology, wherein an accurate, digital 3D replica is created that can be assessed by stakeholders remotely.
Such an approach has many advantages for the operator. For one thing, it is much faster and cheaper than sending out an inspection team, the lack of which will also make the process more environmentally friendly through reducing the number of visits needed. Perhaps most importantly, however, is the improved safety of the process, with engineers no longer forced to climb up towers to perform their surveys.  
"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," explained Vodafone UK’s Director of Network Development, Andrea Dona. 
In this initial trial, drones will be used to inspect 70 sites that are due for an upgrade. 
Vodafone is not the first operator to use drones to assist in site inspections. In Japan last year, Rakuten announced it would be using AirMap drones to inspect its mobile masts, with plans to expand their uses to supporting emergency services in the event of natural disasters. Indeed, since then the industry is slowly exploring the use of drones for even more applications, often 
Vodafone themselves are currently testing the use of mobile network data to help map safe flight paths for drones. Meanwhile, in Scotland, drone’s connected to Vodafone’s 4G network are being flown to remote NHS locations to deliver vital medial supplies much faster than previously possible. 
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