Vodafone Creates Digital Twin of UK Mobile Mast Network
Vodafone has partnered with Esri to create a digital twin of its network of mobile masts. This will enable real-time monitoring of the network, helping to ensure the best possible service for the company’s customers.
Engineers now have access to a 360-degree virtual view of the mobile mast network via a secure connection from their laptop or mobile device. This digital twin was created by mapping more than 40 million environmental features, such as buildings, hills, valleys and trees, using Esri’s advanced mapping software. By utilizing this technology, engineers can plan more effectively when positioning new mobile masts, as well as identifying sites that need upgrading or repositioning in order to meet increases in customer demand or to compensate for newly constructed buildings or tree growth.
Dr Rebecca King, the GIS Lead at Vodafone, explained: “We sometimes refer to the disruption of a customer’s mobile phone signal as ‘clutter’, which is generally caused by newly built structures or seasonal vegetation obstructing the strength of the signal. To better strategize the growth of our network, we like to have these issues represented in a digital format.”
Now that around 500,000 network features – as well as billions of rows of network performance data – are accurately depicted digitally, engineers can rapidly assess components of a mobile base station without having to physically drive to the site. Instead, they can determine whether any maintenance is required with just a few clicks.
The company is now looking to test a similar digital twin service in other markets, including countries such as Germany and Turkey, and is exploring options to create an intelligent online replica of both its mobile and fixed broadband networks. The digital twin is the latest addition to Vodafone’s expanding digital network locker.
Minecraft for Data Scientists
Boris Pitchforth, Lead Architect at Vodafone, says: “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.”
Working with the UK arm of Esri, Vodafone used satellite data to map the terrain, including land use such as crops, transport links and height data of neighbouring objects. “The digital twin doesn’t need to exactly replicate objects in the real world such as the individual bricks of a building. Only its dimensions are needed, so that we can angle the signal to give customers the best possible connection. The simpler the map is, the faster it loads,” he states.
Large-scale Digital Twin
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,” continues King. “Through our digital twin, data can now be visualized 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.
“A few years ago, a national digital twin of this type simply wasn’t possible,” adds Pitchforth. “But the combination of ArcGIS Enterprise in Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud means large-scale digital twins can be a reality, providing a secure, scalable cloud option for enterprise data visualization and geospatial analytics. Similar projects in the utilities sector, for example, traditionally focus on smaller areas but we wanted a national model in line with our network.”
Vodafone’s Tech 2025 Strategy
The move forms part of Vodafone’s Tech 2025 strategy to automate large parts of its pan-European network to be able to rapidly respond to customer demand where it is needed most. 70% of the company’s core European network is already running on Vodafone’s own on-premise cloud, and this will increase to 100% by 2025. This gives Vodafone a software-driven platform from which to launch universal products in many markets at the same time, as well as to predict and dynamically meet future demand.
A common data ocean connecting all Vodafone markets uses advanced AI and machine learning to empower tens of thousands of its employees. They can plan and operate the networks, intelligently manage data centre cooling, and dial-down the power at mobile sites during off-peak times.
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