The hundreds of thousands of cellular towers that dot America’s landscape are meant to be inconspicuous. In many cases, they are designed to camouflage into the surrounding environment. But don’t be lulled into thinking that these towers are maintenance-free.
On the contrary, multi-tenant towers require as many as seven truck rolls each year. Pre- and post-construction surveys are required for all carrier activities. Most towers host two or three carriers. Tower owners track the extent to which their telco lessees are adhering to their contracts. Guyed towers have to be inspected 120 days after installation. Telecom operators are vigilant about detecting whether competitors are encroaching their allocated space on the towers and that they are not being charged for decommissioned equipment. Inspections for regulatory compliance—with regard to issues such as weight, wind loading, structural integrity and maximum height allowances—are required every three to five years depending on the type of towers. Inspections are crucial for determining which pieces of telecom equipment have been damaged or have shifted. Before new components can be added to cellular towers, surveys of available space and structural stability of the towers must be conducted.
Sure. Trucks and climbers can always be dispatched to inspect cellular towers. That is how it has been done for decades. It is true that tower climbers often conduct adequate surveys with their phone’s cameras, calipers and tape measures. But climbing towers is perilous for the technicians. OSHA declared climbing cell towers the most dangerous job in America. The information climbers collect tends to be inconsistent from inspection to inspection due to a variety of environmental conditions. As a result, hiccups in service turn into unacceptable outages.
Fortunately, a St. Petersburg, Florida-headquartered company is pioneering an alternative means of inspecting cellular towers. 5×5 Technologies utilizes photogrammic 3D reconstruction to convert drone-captured camera shots taken from scores of angles into high-resolution, high-fidelity precise 3D reconstructions of every facet of a cellular tower.
The digital twins that 5×5 produces are almost indistinguishable from the actual towers. The high accuracy of the Company’s digital twins is achieved with the help of proprietary volumetric georeferencing; referencing each point of a tower to real world coordinates such as altitude, latitude and longitude. 5×5’s platform enables zooming into points of interest as small as 1/32nd of an inch with at least 99.5% accuracy when the data is collected with commercial drones. The analytics identify every piece of tower mounted equipment, indicating their locations, dimensions, and positions in space. Even the direction that the antennas are pointing can be revealed. Any damaged antennas, missing fasteners or rust accumulation can quickly be spotted.
5×5 (an aviation term signifying full signal and full clarity) delivers these digital twins in a 3D CAD environment. 3D CAD tools make it easy for clients to take highly accurate measurements in 3D space, which is crucial for engineers tasked with certifying the structural integrity of the tower while looking for ways to squeeze more and more equipment of irregular sizes onto real estate constrained towers. Further, the Company has a feature that constantly displays the distance of any point of interest from the base of the tower, helping to accelerate a variety of tasks.
By synthesizing the gobs of data collected by drone scanning of cellular towers, 5×5’s clients can better manage their assets and reduce their truck rolls. When telco operators scan their portfolios of equipment installed on towers, they may learn that many of their coverage issues are due to antenna misplacement or movement over time. This knowledge could allow the operator to achieve reduced prices by placing larger orders and efficiently scheduling tower climbs.
5×5 is a revenue positive emerging company that has already crunched reams of data relative to thousands of cellular towers. While impressive, 5×5 has just scratched the surface of its first addressable market. Revenues from the cellular tower business could be boosted by adding more data capture functionality such as enhanced defect analysis. According to Disruptive Nation’s discussions with Management, 5×5 is in the process of offering its cellular tower analytics services to clients in Europe and the Middle East. The Company has other industry verticals in its sights; the oil and gas sector (where early leak detection is needed) and naval ships appear to be promising targets. And while Management is noncommittal about the impact that 5G may have on its core business, we can’t help but believe that 5G will present noteworthy revenue opportunities for 5×5.
5×5 enjoys a highly strategic relationship with AWS, Amazon’s on-demand cloud computing platform. AWS provides the Company with a great deal of technical and financial support. As an AWS Select Technology Partner, AWS’ Telecom business unit actively presents 5×5’s solution to its customers and participates in 5×5 customer engagements. AWS named 5×5 as one of its Top 25 Start-Ups.
SoftBank invested just under $4.4 million in 5×5 Technologies’ Series A capital raise in 2018. The famed Japanese firm is not a passive investor. Rather, SoftBank’s enterprise global sales team is busy making sales calls on behalf of 5×5.
The Company is in the midst of a $6 million Series B round led by Safar Partners Fund out of Boston. The first tranche closed in September. The Company is seeking an additional investment of $3 million.
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