The Present and Future of Tower Site Data
Key takeaways from the expert panelists at Meetup Asia
Heading into TowerXchange Meetup Asia, our expert panel of tower digitisation pioneers broke down towerco data strategies into three distinct categories.
Firstly, asset management data that consists of leasing information, contracts, site inventory and revenue assurance processes.
Secondly, there are specialist applications, which include but are not limited to access control, drone inspection data and digital twins and radio frequency mapping.
Finally, there is the data day-to-day site operation management, including alarming, telemetry data and data that can help to assure network efficiency.
All of these data points can add value and efficiencies to a towerco operation, but how are they being used in practice? To learn more, TowerXchange recently gathered leaders from tower management software provider Tarantula, and leading Asian towercos edotco, Amplitel and Ascend Telecom Infrastructure to discuss how data was adding value to their businesses, the projects that have provided the best ROI and how they saw data fitting into their businesses in the future.
Moderating the panel was Jon Baars, Director of Sales and Marketing at Asentria - a provider of solutions for mobile network and tower operators to manage power, security, and environmental issues at remote cell sites from their network operations center.
In this summary of the panel we have outlined how towercos are using data and digitisation in the present, whilst also exploring their goals and objectives for the future. Throughout, we invited Asentria to summarise their learnings from moderating the panel and share how they are working with their clients on the topics raised by the panel.
Digitising field collection data can have significant benefits to operating efficiency. If field staff are equipped with tablets during maintenance and site inspections, they are able to use these to input data from the project they are working on, which is then immediately uploaded to central dashboards for teams in the office to access and use.
One towerco reported that they had achieved a 15-20% reduction in Opex after moving to this paperless system, as well as increased accuracy and time to market. This resulted in just a 12-month payback timeframe on the original investment.
Intermittent use of drones has cut climbing costs by up to 30% at some towercos.
Data can be used to help maximise the efficiency of your own operation, but it can also be used as a value-add for MNOs, to strengthen a towerco’s relationship from a tenant/landlord to a true service provider and strategic partner.
Using data to automate and optimise energy efficiency is a great example of this. Some towercos are creating automated docks for all of their energy equipment that includes battery changeover being fully automated, air conditioning kicking in when it’s needed and diesel allocation being cycled in as needed based on grid availability of the site.
As well as operating in real time, historical data can be collected and analysed to find further efficiencies and identify smaller malfunctions, so maintenance can be scheduled ahead of time.
The data you collect has to be accurate and a great way to ensure this is to make data input as simple as possible for staff that are at sites. Make sure your system is streamlined and there is a good UX, and you will see internal buy in skyrocket.
Using APIs to make sure all of your data is located in a central data lake, can unlock future potential. Making sure this is in place from day one will save you a lot of work down the line, when more ambitious projects are attempted.
Jon Baars, Director of Sales and Marketing, Asentria: "Asentria customers have a full range of data from towerco sites related to power, security, and environment. We are able to help with network reliability for both "clear sky" (regular individual site) outages and "rainy day" (mass disaster) events, by making the data from all sites available to operation's personnel.
We might detect diesel fuel theft at individual sites as it happens, or help to manage diesel refueling in the event of a mass outage due to a typhoon, earthquake, or fire. We are also able to help with the efficiency of the towerco sites, which has a direct cost-savings benefit, but also is a part of towerco sustainability efforts."
The data use case focus is moving from operational excellence to enhancing the MNO customer journey. If operators are getting on air faster and they have a better experience, then your co-location rates will go up.
An example of this is to invest more in digital twin technology – a 3D virtual replication of a site, generated through the data that is collected and stored on it. The digital twin can show existing projects, reservations and equipment on the site which gives customers a greater deal of comfort.
This can then be fed back internally to inform engineering analysis, and future requirements of the site can be modelled and visualised.
It is possible to create the digital twin from existing asset management data, or the reverse where the digital twin is the starting point and you use that to create your database.
Cristian Croitor, EMEA Business Development, Asentria: “We see great returns from site power management. Tenant power requirements differ in terms of availability and back-up time for transmission or radio equipment, or based on specific radio technology used. Just as space is an asset, the site power profile digital twin becomes critical to support new tenants and new technologies.
As radio equipment use more bandwidth at higher frequencies, the need for mains and backup power increases. The towerco can use data to create reliable power profiles for its tenants and correctly evaluate the available capacities for further expansion or refinement.
Revenue Assurance is a future focus area. Amendment revenues are becoming a large part of towerco profitability, so there is a focus on towercos being able to use solutions that can integrate with a customer database so that whenever additional equipment is installed, the towerco can bill for this immediately.
Currently, this process is both slow and cumbersome. A customer has to issue a service order, and then there has to be synchronisation at site level between the technician and the customer’s staff when the new equipment is installed.
Due to the manual nature of this process, data associated with completed installation is delayed and sometimes gets missed all together. This leads to lost revenue for the towerco.
To validate this data there is a requirement for sites to be audited and results to be compared to the customer database – another operational process that could be removed with an integrated system.
With 5G and IoT rollouts set to increase, the loading of new equipment on existing towers is set to increase dramatically. Ensuring that revenue from this is captured in its fullest is essential for towercos to capitalise on the opportunity that these new infrastructure projects set forth.
Data platform vendors should make an effort to encourage MNOs to use a platform before taking this to towercos to help with these ambitions.
Currently, data lakes are used to extract reports which are then sent to a relevant stakeholder. While this works fine, the next step is to introduce AI and Machine Learning that can trigger alerts in real-time. This cannot be done with the existing processes in place.
Innovation around digitisation is evolving rapidly, and there are increasing opportunities to offer new and different customer services. Towercos are starting to think of themselves not just as infrastructure providers but as digital product companies, so they can continue to innovate.
It’s not just about automating what you already have, but being creative and exploring the possibilities to transform the business that data offers you.
Jon Baars, Director of Sales and Marketing, Asentria: “In many cases a towerco can have better data on the non-radio elements of a tower site than an MNO ever had themselves. In many cases MNOs would have only had the most basic alarms related to power, security, or environment.
Towercos using more modern telecom site automation can determine exactly how a site is performing and either immediately move to repair a problem site, or show conclusively that a problem is not a towerco's responsibility. This helps with SLA compliance and provides value by reducing network outages.
The towerco nature of business inherently improves the physical and power infrastructure because there is more attention paid towards it and it is being managed better than when it was under MNO responsibility. The data is used to support faster network rollouts with safer and reliable space and power for MNOs.”
There is no finish line when it comes to digitisation and the outputs that it can generate. The process is a constant work in progress, with each completed project unlocking new possibilities and use cases.
M&A is and will continue to be a huge part of the towerco industry. Integrating data is a necessity when an entity is acquired, but in the future, more attention will be paid to a firms holistic data strategy to make sure it is compatible and robust. This should be a consideration for both sides of the transaction.
People tend to gravitate towards partners they’ve used before for due diligence, as it allows people to make good economic decisions based on data they’ve seen before. It would be helpful to have a standard here, with big investment banks driving this. But there is yet to be a thorough template.
Cycle times for M&A are reducing with data becoming more available, transparent and granular, and this is likely to continue.
The future for towerco digitisation is certainly exciting. With exponential growth in the capabilities of data manipulation and analysis, staying on top of the latest innovations and learning what projects are transforming towerco business models will be essential. TowerXchange will be hosting invite only data working groups at our five regional live events across the year in 2022. If you are interested in joining any of them, please get in touch with me at email@example.com.