Using AI to help telcos protect 5G masts and fibre from damage


Simon Navin, Head of High Definition Roads at Ordnance Survey, explains how OS is building an asset management data service using AI, plus fleets of vehicles with camers and sensors.

In addition to a £200 million push towards the rollout of 5G in the UK, the government has pledged to invest £1 billion in gigabit fibre broadband to extend high-speed connectivity to all corners of the country. The rollout of these technologies relies on the laying of new infrastructure, including thousands of miles of fibre cables and hundreds of thousands of new phone masts.

Maintenance of all these new assets presents a challenge to telecoms providers. They already spends billions of pounds every year on monitoring, managing and maintaining telecoms assets, and that figure is likely to increase as full fibre broadband and 5G networks expand.

Ordnance Survey is working with utilities and telecoms providers to build a bespoke asset management data service using fleets of vehicles equipped with cameras and sensors to automatically map roadside assets.

The service uses a type of artificial intelligence known as computer vision – much like the technology that a self-driving car uses to “see” the road ahead – where algorithms are trained to identify objects, and assess their condition.

On the RoADS

The roadside asset data service (RoADS) has made it possible to automatically capture roadside asset data to centimetre precision, with change detection providing hourly updates, so that telecoms providers can build asset registers that are accurate, frequent and complete, saving money and time through new insights and better decision-making.

In partnership with a utilities provider, Ordnance Survey has already captured almost 2 million road-side assets using the technology and identified thousands of areas of damage to outdated infrastructure in the past year alone. We’re also working on bespoke geospatial solutions for telecoms providers to help them monitor the condition of their assets, reducing the need for costly and time-consuming inspections.

In addition to building high resolution and high-frequency asset registers, the technology can also be used for change detection, meaning it can automatically flag if a mast is damaged by weather or obscured by foliage, impairing its function.

Another pressing challenge for telco asset managers is maintaining their underground assets, which carry the fibre optic cables needed for gigabit broadband. The roadside asset data service will help to provide early warning of problems underground by spotting telltale signs of issues, such as standing water and sinkholes, meaning that they can be addressed before causing damage to the network or service outages.

Going underground

When it comes to digging for underground asset maintenance, accidental strikes on pipes and cables are common because there isn’t a shared below-ground asset register. The cost of these strikes is £1.2 billion per year, and the UK spends a further £5.5 billion digging four million exploratory excavations each year to figure out what is there.

To solve this challenge, Ordnance Survey has been working with the Geospatial Commission on a pilot project in the North East as part of plans to build a National Underground Asset Register (NUAR). Combining all the underground asset information held by utility companies and telcos will greatly improve efficiency of underground asset management, provide cost savings and improve safety for maintenance workers.

Building a register

As the revolution in telecoms continues with the simultaneous rollout of both 5G masts above ground and gigabit full fibre below ground, Ordnance Survey are working closely with telecoms providers to build asset registers and geospatial solutions that provide an up to date, real-world picture of their asset inventory.

By working with a trusted geospatial partner, the telecoms and utility industries can benefit from accurate, complete and high-frequency asset data delivered at the right time. Up to date asset data means fewer maintenance delays, providing a competitive advantage over competitors while helping to provide both a better service for customers and better compliance with regulators.