AT&T uses climate-change models to deploy new cell sites

The models can visualize climate impacts 30 years into the future. (Getty Images)

AT&T is working with the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory to assess the risks that climate change might pose for its business. The carrier has created a Climate Change Analysis Tool based Argonne's regional climate modeling, which is capable of visualizing climate impacts at the neighborhood level 30 years into the future.

Kelly King, who was recently named executive vice president of postpaid wireless products at AT&T, did a short stint in AT&T’s Data Office. The group is using machine learning and artificial intelligence for a variety of initiatives, including climate-change modeling.

He said AT&T is concerned about the impact that climate change will have on investment decisions for things such as cell tower siting. Working with Argonne, the carrier used historical weather models and flood-plain data to determine where to deploy infrastructure. “We worked with them and took climate modeling, and applied the variables associated with climate change and predicted the temperature rise over the course of 25 years,” said King.

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He said the original models took into account inland and coastal flooding among other factors, but the models could only predict within about a 200-square-meter accuracy. “That’s too big for us to make infrastructure decisions,” said King. The partners then started using machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques to consider additional variables such as soil conditions and hydrology. “We then applied those models and got to 12x12-meter accuracy,” he said. That granularity is helping AT&T to make decisions about where to place cell sites.

King recently was promoted to executive vice president of postpaid wireless products at AT&T. Jason Porter is AT&T’s new chief data officer.

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Climate resiliency contest

AT&T is sharing the climate data sets it developed with Argonne with universities and local governments to use for their own climate risk analysis. And, AT&T and Argonne are hosting a Climate Resiliency Community Challenge in which universities will work with local governments to conduct risk-based climate assessments to address problems that affect the Southeast Region covering the states of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Areas that might be affected by climate change include infrastructure, public health, and emergency management among others. AT&T will provide participating universities with climate data from Argonne and up to $50,000 in funding to support the research projects. One team from each state in the Southeast Region will be selected by an independent panel of non-profit climate and resiliency experts. The deadline to submit an application is September 30, 2019.

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