The Digital Twin Revolution – Why Does A Towers Metaverse Matter?
At Amplitel, we are very passionate about the digitisation of our infrastructure. By creating digital twins of our network of towers, we will transform not only the way customers interact with us but also how infrastructure providers operate and maintain infrastructure.
All of us today recognise the importance of continuing to adapt to our customer’s current and future needs. We believe that leveraging digital twins and developing a Towers metaverse will enable our customers wherever they are, to make faster decisions informed by real-time data so they can connect their customers more efficiently.
The concept of a digital twin itself is not really new. In the 1960s, NASA created physical replicas of spaceships so that in the event of a mechanical failure hundreds of thousands of kilometres away, a team could workshop real time solutions on the ground at its base. They would have the exact same tools and resources at their disposal as the faraway astronauts.
That’s an example of a twin, a simple replica of what’s happening in the real world, not exactly digital but nevertheless an accurate replica.
In the medieval town of Regensburg in Germany, there are two versions of a BMW factory. One is a physical plant that cranks out hundreds of thousands of cars a year. The other is a virtual replica of the plant, in which every surface and every bit of machinery looks exactly the same as in real life. Whatever is happening in the physical factory will be reflected inside the virtual one in real time: frames being dipped in paint; doors being sealed onto hinges. The latter factory is an example of a “digital twin”, an exact digital re-creation of an object or environment.
These digital twins are now proving quite valuable across multiple industries such as infrastructure and telecommunications and various government organisations. At Amplitel we have created digital replicas or digital twins of over 4000 unique towers. Today as a customer with access to our system, if you have equipment on one of those towers or are considering placing equipment on one of them – you can gain a very detailed view of the infrastructure just like the BMW plant in Germany. If you are selling fixed broadband as an example to a remote mining town and you need tower access to provide these radio services, you or your constructors can access this replica of the real-world tower in that location.
Customers can now virtually scope sites in three dimensions and get served accurate ‘As-Surveyed’ information. The digital twin’s simplicity will help our customers to understand the infrastructure quicker.
So why are global infrastructure companies investing in creating these digital twins? Why at Amplitel are we striving to digitise over 90% of all our mobile structures by 2025? Our vision is to use the digital twins as building blocks for more. We are looking at a group of models that behave the same way the actual tower will behave so that we can simulate predicted futures states.
We are seeing the quick evolution of digital twins. From a physical replica of what NASA had in the 60s to digital replicas of infrastructure to complex models that can be queried to understand how that infrastructure will behave over time.
We discussed a hypothetical fixed broadband company providing wholesale access to remote mining companies. Imagine that this wholesale company can not only scope sites virtually in three dimensions but also understand what infrastructure is available. This business providing fixed wireless will no longer need to travel to remote locations to physically inspect the infrastructure or determine suitability. We are planning for functionality so they can virtually add and remove their equipment, this will instantly convert to an application to co-locate, saving time on both site visits and desktop analysis.
Let’s look forward even further and imagine that this wholesale provider can do various preliminary design work, all from their device in a matter of seconds. As an example, they will be able to know in a shorter time than ever if a tower has sufficient capacity, or whether there is a need for some form of tower upgrade.
Instantaneous assessment of electromagnetic radiation from a proposed installation at different heights and other actionable insights gives you an idea of the vision we have for customers. The advanced tools in their grasp for maximising existing infrastructure quicker and more efficiently than they thought possible. That’s more than a world away from the multiple email exchanges just to agree on the location of a tower!
Creating the digital twins of our towers is the first step in creating that accurate twin of the real-world infrastructure. The second step is moving beyond the visual display to creating a real-world virtual model that behaves the same way the actual infrastructure will behave in all conditions.
As we continue to build enough of these digital twins and models, we will integrate more data providing a unified view – a National Digital Twin. This won’t be a single monolithic twin of the entire national footprint of our towers, but rather a federation of many twins. Let’s call it the Amplitel Towers Metaverse.
In this metaverse, not only is each digital twin its own accurate visual representation of the actual tower, each digital twin has its own unique set of models to accurately represent how it will behave and interact with each other. A living model of the physical asset so to speak, something that continually adapts to operational changes based on the collected data and can forecast the future of the corresponding physical counterpart.
At Amplitel, we have a regular inspection and maintenance program across all of our 8000+ structures. This frequency of these inspection programs is based on a number of variables including wind zones and corrosions zones. When we create the initial digital twin, we do so by taking high resolution drone footage to be fed into our software tools to create the twin. When we create this footage, we get a set of high-resolution images as part of that initial inspection. When we revisit that tower to conduct the next routine inspection, we also capture a new set of these high-resolution images. This is where the magic happens.
We can use the difference between these images to understand very small changes that only high-resolution imagery would pick up. Based on these changes, we can use AI software that we are currently developing to predict how that tower is likely to perform and degrade over time. In a country with extreme weather conditions especially in our remote areas, we have a very wide range of conditions to contend with. Frequent La Nina events are forecasted and climate modelling remains a complex endeavour. I mentioned that some of our towers are located in some of the harsh and hard access environments and the maintenance of our infrastructure in these areas is vital. Digital twin technology with engineering data at its core means we are able to identify the actions and strategies needed to deliver sustainable performance where it is needed most. For our people, it will also mean our teams are able to deliver operational advantages while reducing risks. From a maintenance point of view, we want to define what we are trying to learn and optimise with this technology. If what we want is just to have a comprehensive understanding of the implications of our infrastructure, then the current system would suffice.
If the goal is to keep the towers performing optimally for the longest period of time, then predictive maintenance will require not only an accurate simulation of its parts but also data from its maintenance records, as well as the conditions it is used in.
So where does all this leave us. At Amplitel we will continue to invest and create a unique set of digital twins of our infrastructure to allow our customers to virtually scope sites in 3D and have information delivered to inform their decision making. We will continue to develop unique models that sit behind these twins to simulate how that tower will behave and age over time. With sufficient critical mass, the federation of many twins will result in a towers metaverse that we expect will continue to not only transform how we interact with our customers but also how we imagine operational potential and benefits.
Deploying Digital Twins in infrastructure is now an upward trend and we want to highlight that the underlying technology has advanced so much these high-fidelity twins are fast becoming a critical tool to assist our customers in connecting communities.