P3 Group, a consulting, management and engineering services company, has announced the launch of a new drone program in the U.S. designed to increase the speed, safety and accuracy of its radio frequency (RF) analysis and reporting for the wireless network industry.
The drones will initially be deployed by P3’s “interference hunting team,” which the company says tracks down and eliminates sources of RF interference that can result in everything from minor static and dropped calls to interruptions in vital data connections and throughput.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) new rules for commercial drones helped make the program possible, according to Michael Schwab, vice president of radio access engineering for New Jersey-based P3 communications Inc.
“An operator no longer has to hold an airplane pilot’s license to use a drone for commercial purposes within newly defined parameters,” noted Schwab. “I received my remote pilot certificate last month, and we have begun to utilize drones in our interference hunting operations.”
According to the company, P3 has been providing its interference hunting services for major wireless carriers in the U.S. since 2010.
“Although current regulations allow commercial drones to fly as high as 400 feet, cellular antennas are mounted on towers that are typically 100 to 200 feet in height,” said Schwab. “Drones can access these wireless transmitters in areas of a tower that human climbers cannot safely reach. Drones will make our work around towers safer, faster and provide more information than manual inspections. This will allow mobile operators to more quickly address problem areas to improve performance and enhance the overall customer experience and satisfaction with their service.”
P3 will assign a two-person team to each drone – a pilot to fly it via remote control and an engineer to monitor the live data stream to look for interference issues. Common sources of interference include Wi-Fi routers, LED signs and billboards, security cameras and even florescent lights. A drone also can assess the physical condition of tower antenna arrays to see if cables are disconnected or if there are rusty parts that need replacement. Because a drone can easily circle a tower’s sectored antennas, it also can accurately measure RF patterns, pinpointing the strongest signal propagation, which P3 then plots as three-dimensional charts.
P3 CEO Dirk Bernhardt added, “Our strength is in developing and implementing innovative solutions to complex technology challenges. We fully expect to discover many new applications and opportunities for drone inspection, troubleshooting and data collection. The sky’s no limit to the value these new aerial tools bring to telecommunications and many other industries.”