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AT&T Uses Location Analytics to Protect Its Telecom Infrastructure from Climate Events

AT&T is using data science and location technology to assess the impact of climate change on its cell towers, base stations, and other physical infrastructure.

Image credit: Fierce Wireless

AT&T is the world’s largest telecommunications company, providing more than 100 million U.S. consumers with entertainment and communications experiences across TV, mobile and broadband. The company also provides high-speed connectivity and smart solutions to nearly 3 million business customers.

AT&T owns a vast infrastructure network, including 65,000 cell towers and enormous amounts of equipment that are vulnerable to extreme weather events. It was reported that between 2016 and 2018, AT&T spent over USD 800 million on repairs and recovery from major storms in the U.S. This has led to AT&T developing a Climate Change Analysis Tool, which will help anticipate the potential impacts of extreme weather and climate-related events on its network infrastructure and business operations.

Ground-breaking climate resiliency project

In 2019, AT&T announced its partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory for a Climate Change Resiliency Project to better anticipate, prepare for and adapt to climate change events.

The main purpose of the project was to develop a tool that would help AT&T analyze and visualize future climate change impact on its physical infrastructure in four priority states in Southeastern United States. These states – Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida ─ are particularly vulnerable to Atlantic hurricanes.

For this project, Argonne further enhanced its existing physics-based regional climate modeling system down to the hyperlocal level of 200-meter blocks, which is the most detailed level of climate modeling available.

The forecast data predicted the likelihood and level of severity for four priority climate impacts, namely Inland Flooding Caused by Increased Precipitation; Additional Coastal Flooding Caused by Sea Level Rise and Hurricane Surge; High-Intensity Winds (Non-Hurricane); and High Intensity Winds (Hurricane). Flood risk and high-intensity winds were chosen as the priority climate impacts to be modeled, because they are the most significant threat to AT&T’s electrical and battery-powered equipment above ground and underground.

The forecast data was then layered into AT&T’s Geographic Information System (GIS) that maps the locations of its infrastructure assets – creating a robust Climate Change Analysis Tool. The tool allows AT&T to visualize climate-related events ─ for example, projected sea-level rise surrounding copper lines, fiber cable locations, cell sites, central offices, and others ─ up to the next 30 years into the future.

Visualization of flooding data overlaid on AT&T fiber and cell sites | Image credit: AT&T

This information was used to help AT&T plan for maintenance, disaster recovery, and future construction of its physical infrastructure, ensuring the safety and integrity of its facilities and the continuity of its service to customers.

Automated cell tower inspections with drones and AI

In 2017, AT&T announced that its video analytics team had joined forces with its national drone team to bring automation to cell tower inspections.

The video analytics team created a deep learning-based algorithm that analyzes video footage captured by drones to detect defects and anomalies on the cell towers. The high-definition (HD) video is fed to AT&T technicians and engineers in real-time.

Later in the same year, AT&T deployed a fleet of 25 drones to areas in Southeast Texas that were impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

The drones inspected cell towers in areas that could not be reached by cars or trucks because of flooding.  The HD videos and photos provided AT&T with a bird’s eye view of cell towers ─ including high-quality visuals of equipment, components and cabling ─ so engineers could determine the hurricane impact on the telecommunications network remotely and in real time.

An AI and data-driven organization

AT&T has been continuously working towards ensuring that data is available and used by every department within the organization. Data specialists sitting at its Chief Data Office, Labs Research and Technology Development Program, collaborate by combining data, design and software to identify and apply the best AI solutions for better customer service.

For instance, using AI, automation and data insights, AT&T created algorithms that are used to dispatch its 43,000 technicians more efficiently to serve customers faster. These algorithms provide predictive capabilities that allow the system to match customer demands to technician availability significantly better. In addition to this, AT&T is also working to make it possible for customers to track their technicians’ locations in real time.

AI-powered solutions are also used to fight robocalls and fraud, improve customer care, optimize network security and identify the right locations to build AT&T’s 5G network.

Artificial Intelligence and Data Science at AT&T

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