Operators often tout how resilient their networks are during major weather events, but now Verizon is using drones to inspect cell sites and determine where fixes need to be made in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
The operator is using an unmanned aerial system (UAS) operated by Measure UAS to inspect cell sites in difficult-to-reach areas, sharing information with technicians about damaged equipment in both North Carolina and South Carolina.
Since not every cell site is accessible by roads due to the extreme flooding, Verizon is sending the drones out to check on the gear. As of Friday, more than 99 percent of the company’s cell sites in the Carolinas were up and running to serve customers.
“We understand how vital wireless communication is to connect with loved ones, reach out for help and start the long process of recovery during and after an event like Hurricane Matthew,” Chief Network Officer Nicki Palmer said in a prepared statement. “While we were able to access most sites quickly to assess damage, some sites were not accessible to us due to extreme flooding. We are very pleased that we now have this new tool to add to our already extensive list of preparatory and recovery efforts to help inspect our network assets and expedite recovery time.”
The UAS is able to both record and livestream HD video and high-resolution photographs of a cell site. The first flight to a site surrounded by water near Elm City, North Carolina, and the Tar River Reservoir showed engineers that the base station equipment – which was elevated on stilts – was not underwater and had not suffered visible damage. After determining the site was safe to access, Verizon’s Network team secured an air boat and refueled the generator, bringing the site back into service within hours.
Verizon announced earlier this month that it had successfully completed technical trials in various locations across the country using a combination of unmanned and manned aircraft on Verizon’s 4G LTE network. The idea is to use UASs and Verizon’s LTE network to help first responders and emergency management personnel enhance disaster recovery efforts. The carrier completed cell site inspection trials earlier this year in New Jersey.
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As part of its Internet of Things (IoT) strategy, Verizon’s drone initiative involves everything from a new device certification process to collaboration with partners like Sierra Wireless and American Aerospace Technologies Inc. (AATI) on aerial long-range applications beyond line of sight.
Verizon’s news comes after AT&T last summer launched the trial phase of its national drone program. Last month, AT&T and Qualcomm Technologies announced they were testing drones on commercial LTE networks using Qualcomm’s facility in San Diego.