The availability of powerful, inexpensive consumer drones has created a lot of excitement about commercial drone applications.
Utility companies have immediate applications because of their distributed physical systems and the value of replacing manual inspection tasks with drone-enabled applications.
AT&T has described multiple internal commercial drone applications, including a specific use for verifying in-stadium dense Wi-Fi and cellular upgrades.
Business Need: Customer satisfaction. AT&T upgrades venues (often stadiums) to provide much denser consumer radio coverage (WiFi and cellular) by adding many new cells with targeted antenna coverage. After installation they need to verify actual radio coverage across the stadium which used to be a multi-day manual task of walking the stadium with an instrumentation backpack, and is now a few hour programmed drone inspection that can also be done periodically to verify continuing coverage.
Key Enabling Technologies: Drones
This one application is a good example of the valuable benefits of straightforward drone application incorporation in a utility company. AT&T has said that it has created an internal drone application development service organization to accelerate the construction of such applications across the company, citing the immediate benefit of being able to do automated cell tower and transmission line inspection quicker, at a lower cost, and without putting technicians at physical risk (e.g., climbing a cell tower).
Edge Need: Image processing and AI are computationally intensive (power hungry) making edge implementation attractive rather than on-drone implementation.
Ease of Incorporation: These applications fit naturally into important existing business processes (make them better and more effective). Commercial drones are readily available. Control via cellular links is likely for this kind of out-door application.