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Digital Twins in telecoms: BIM and beyond

Digital Twin in telecoms is fast becoming a hot topic in the industry. With technology advancing faster than ever, BIM models are stepping up to the next level and bringing more added value. This article will cover what Digital Twin is and what the potential benefits are for the telecoms industry.

What is a Digital Twin?

As mentioned in a previous article about Digital Twin in construction, it is possible to trace the origins of Digital Twin back to the beginnings of the Internet of Things (IoT). The main goal of IoT is to interconnect different devices using the internet. This allows data to be transferred between the devices without human interaction.

A Digital Twin is a digital replica of a physical asset that uses technology to transfer data between the physical twin and the digital twin. You can have a Digital Twin of living assets (imagine having a digital copy of yourself). However, for the purposes of this article, we will focus on non-living assets, and particularly on Digital Twin in telecoms.

Digital Twin in telecoms starts with a drone survey

The telecoms industry has traditionally been a 2D CAD industry. Both the design and the maintenance of these complex assets have been mostly carried out based on 2D PDFs and paper plans. But technology and innovation are set to change the status quo and bring Digital Twin to the telecommunications industry.

With the widespread use of drones for surveys, telecoms industry leaders are catching on to the enormous potential of this application. The first condition for a Digital Twin is to be an exact replica of a physical asset. For this to happen, the telecoms industry is exploring ways to create 3D BIM models of existing assets.

Everything starts with a drone survey of the physical asset. For example, a telecoms fenced site with a mast, antennas and cabinets, the drone will capture a large number of photos (generally in the order of thousands), the images will then be put together by photogrammetry software, such as ReCap Photo or Capturing Reality, to create a 3D-accurate rendering of the physical asset, otherwise known as a photogrammetry model.

From a photogrammetry model to a BIM model

Some people would call a photogrammetry model a Digital Twin, as it is an exact copy of the real asset. However, photogrammetry models have many limitations and are not in fact Digital Twins. For this precise reason, the telecoms industry is taking photogrammetry models to the next level. They are developing an accurate and intelligent BIM model from it. To do this, the workflow has to generate a 3D model in BIM-capable software such as Revit. Thanks to the capabilities of software like Revit, it is now possible to optimize the process of converting the static photogrammetry model into a dynamic BIM model. Indeed, Revit families make quick work of the creation of different types of masts, antennas and cabinets.

Once the drone photogrammetry model is converted into a BIM model, using Revit for example, it is then possible to assign clever metadata to the different parts of the model. For instance, by clicking an antenna, one can know straight away the type of antenna, material, manufacturer, size, elevation, etc. It is worth noting that the photogrammetry model does not contain any of this information.

Benefits of Digital Twin for the telecoms industry

When you combine photogrammetry with BIM software, you have the capability to create a Digital Twin of telecoms assets. They can go down to 25mm or even 10mm accuracy. The drone photogrammetry captures the as-built existing condition of the asset which may differ drastically to what the design or as-built 2D drawings show.

This clever Digital Twin has a huge potential for telecoms companies and the wider industry. It enables asset owners to know at their fingertips the exact conditions of their assets and the precise details of every component from the comfort of a computer. This in turn can bring about enormous savings for operation and maintenance teams as all the properties of each component of an asset is just a mouse click away.

Digital Twin in telecoms, cleverer than ever

And this is just the beginning. The other condition for a real Digital Twin is that both the physical twin and the digital twin must be interconnected. This is where the most significant long-term savings and potential exist for Digital Twins in the telecoms industry. With the use of sensors and the internet, physical assets can be connected to their digital counterparts.

With a proper Digital Twin in place, telecoms companies will be able to monitor their assets in real time. They will know when an antenna fails, and they will be able to click in the model and will know there and then the precise type of antenna, material, manufacturer, and crew required to replace it or service it. Maintenance teams will have access to real-time data to monitor the status of networks and assets; they will get alerts to do repairs when the structure support needs maintenance for example. The applications are infinite. Sensors, IoT, Artificial Intelligence and innovation will play a key role in the years to come to take Digital Twin to the next level.

Take action and start your Digital Twin strategy

In a nutshell, Digital Twin in telecoms has great potentials, and early adopters of this technology will certainly gain a competitive edge in an industry that is undergoing significant digital transformation. This is where the recent partnership between GlobalCAD and CAD Network can help you. GlobalCAD is a leading provider of BIM Services in the UK. CAD Network is a well-established leading provider of CAD services to the telecoms industry. The synergies between GlobalCAD and CAD Network provide the perfect one-stop-shop solution for telecoms companies looking to take advantage of the early adopter’s competitive edge by deploying BIM and the Digital Twin technology for their assets.

Are you the owner of a telecom company or do you work in one and want to know how we can help you develop Digital Twin for your assets? Get in touch now and we will gladly show you how we can bring your assets to the next level using cutting-edge technology.

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