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Drones survey cell sites hit by Harvey

In Rockport, Texas, rubble litters the ground and rooftops have been ripped from buildings, but a steel tower stands tall amidst the debris. The cell tower is apparently undamaged by Hurricane Harvey, but Verizon wants to know for sure. The carrier is using drones to survey and photograph 10 cell sites in Rockport, Fulton, Aransas Pass, and Port Aransas. The drones can deliver close-up views of radios and antennas, as well as the bolts that secure equipment to the tower. Some of these towers are in areas that climbers still cannot access because of the flooding, and all of them can be surveyed more safely and more quickly with drones.

The drones are supplied by Measure, a company that has supported Verizon on previous drone projects. A ground-based pilot operates each drone using a controller that includes a mount for a tablet, which gives the pilot a close-up view of what the drone sees. The crews are looking for problems like cracked antennae and frayed coax cable, as well as other issues that may not be causing a problem today, but could disable the site in the future.

This is not the first time Verizon has used drones to inspect towers after a natural disaster. Last October, during Hurricane Matthew, Measure supplied drones to inspect sites in North Carolina. Video supplied by a drone told network engineers that one site in a flooded area had equipment on stilts and was not damaged. They sent a boat to the site to refuel its generator, and the site was able to serve hurricane victims within a few hours.

AT&T also uses drones to inspect cell towers, especially after weather events. The carrier is deploying 25 drones to inspect cell towers in Southeast Texas.

“Drones can take HD video and photos of a cell site, giving us a birds’ eye view of the tower,” AT&T said in a blog post. “This offers high-quality visuals of equipment, components and cabling so our engineers can remotely view cell sites safely from the ground – all in real time.”

Carriers kept many sites on air during and immediately after Harvey, and are now working to repair damage to their networks. Verizon said it has deployed microwave in areas where fiber backhaul has been temporarily interrupted and has staged additional equipment including cells on wheels (COWs), and cells on light trucks (COLTS) to supplement service in areas of South Texas that need extra network capacity now. AT&T plans to deploy 2 satellite cell sites on wheels in Beaumont, Texas and stage 12 more in the area to support customers and first responders following Harvey’s second landfall.

Verizon is also supplying generator-powered mobile units on tractor trailers to areas impacted by the hurricane. These include device charging and computer workstations, as well as wireless phones, tablets and other devices connected to the Verizon LTE network. The company said it is deploying these in partnership with state and federal emergency relief coordinators.

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