Vodafone has created a digital twin of its UK mobile mast network that will enable its engineers to visualise and strategise improvements to the network.
Creating the digital twin involved mapping more than 40 million environmental features using advanced software from Esri, including buildings, hills, valleys and trees.
Engineers now have access to a 360-degree virtual view of the network from their laptop or mobile device over a secure connection.
Vodafone says the new technology allows them to plan where to position new mobile sites more effectively and identify which ones need upgrading or repositioning to meet increases in customer demand.
“An engineer can inspect a component of a mobile base station remotely before deciding whether to jump in their van and drive to the site to carry out any necessary work,” the firm said in a press release.
Dr Rebecca King, Geographic Information System (GIS) Lead at Vodafone, explained: “A customer’s mobile phone might cut out due to what we call clutter.
“This is usually down to the construction of new buildings or seasonal tree growth interfering with the signal strength. We like to visualise these in a digital format so that we can better plan the expansion of our network around them.”
The company is now looking to test a similar digital twin service in other markets, including Germany and Turkey, and is exploring options to create an intelligent online replica of both its mobile and fixed broadband networks.
‘Minecraft for data scientists’
Boris Pitchforth, Lead Architect at Vodafone, said: “The digital twin gives us an unprecedented understanding of our entire UK mobile network – it is like Minecraft for data scientists.
“We can be smarter and faster about how and where we add new 5G features, and target capacity increases with greater precision. There’s also the added benefit of being able to reduce our carbon footprint as our engineers won’t need to make as many site visits, especially to masts in remote areas.”
Vodafone turned to Esri’s ArcGIS Enterprise platform which combines web mapping, image exploitation, real-time data handling, large-volume batch analysis and spatial data science.
“Using ArcGIS Enterprise has allowed us to add the spatial dimension to a lot of data we were already working with, resulting in new levels of location intelligence,” continued Dr Rebecca King. “Through our digital twin, data can now be visualised in 3D and shared easily with multiple teams.”
In addition to introducing the digital twin to other countries, Vodafone also plans to use it to support the rollout of new network features such as Massive MIMO – providing more capacity at a single cell site – to meet the proliferation of connected devices, which are predicted to grow globally to 30 billion by 2025.
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