"The Game of Drones" has just begun

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Jeffrey Leentjes, Senior Proposition Analyst at T-Mobile Netherlands, and Cliff Sullivan, Deployment Site engineer at T-Mobile Netherlands, explain why the national company has broken new ground and is using drones for network maintenance.

The use of drones has been widely discussed in the last few years. You have enabled the everyday use of drones at T-Mobile Netherlands. What do you use them for?

Cliff: The drones are our eyes in the sky. We use them as a tool to inspect our antennas. Instead of driving out with heavy cherry pickers and cranes, we bring our relatively little drones up to the antenna masts. We turn them on and fly them up to take the pictures, videos, readings and measurements that are required for the quality checks. We are the very first European provider to do that, and the first in the global telecommunications industry to train its own drone pilots.

Jeffrey: Using drones instead of heavy machinery also saves a lot of time, money and is very environmentally friendly because of the low carbon footprint. During the pilot phase we tested our drone in a soccer stadium. In the past, checking all flatpanel antennas on the roof and the stadium spotlight masts would have taken nearly a week – with our drone we can do the same task in just 15 minutes. And, even more importantly than the savings, it is a lot safer than climbing up the masts or sending someone all the way up in a cherry picker.

Why use the drones now? The technology isn't all that new.

Jeffrey: We see a definite need for increased efficiency now. At T-Mobile Netherlands, we are in a process of rapidly upgrading our network to a high-quality 4G network. This of course means that all our sites have to be checked in a very short time. This would be nearly impossible for our inspectors to accomplish via traditional methods. The drones help them to speed up their work, remain safely on the ground and even to get more measurements than they could have before.

Cliff, you said T-Mobile Netherlands is the first to train its own drone pilots. Is a vacancy for "drone pilot" going to be advertised online?

Cliff: No, not really. Drones are a tool that can be used in many different ways - antenna inspection is only the beginning. The site inspectors and engineers who can use them to improve their work get a special training and are afterwards able to control them. They can even be used to test the network over the ocean near the shore - something you couldn't do with a cherry picker. They can also be used to verify the line of sight between masts at large-scale events. This is just another way drones can help us ensure network quality.