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Dropped Calls? Send in the Drones

There’s a new drone program in the U.S. that promises to increase the speed, safety and accuracy of radio frequency analysis and reporting for the wireless industry.

P3 Communications, a global consulting and engineering services company, announced the launch of the unmanned aerial vehicles program, which initially will be deployed by P3’s interference hunting team. The team tracks down and eliminates sources of radio frequency interference that can result in everything from minor static and dropped calls to interruptions in vital data connections and throughput.

Drones help prevent dropped calls
The program is made possible by new rules for commercial drones, issued by the FAA last summer, according to Michael Schwab, vice president of radio access engineering for New Jersey-based P3 communications. The FAA lowered the barrier for entry for commercial drone operations, and an operator no longer must hold an airplane pilot’s license to use a drone for commercial purposes within newly defined parameters. Schwab himself received his Remote Pilot Certificate last month and the company has started to use drones in its interference hunting operations.

P3 has provided interference hunting services for major wireless carriers in the U.S. since 2010, but the company’s agreements with carriers precludes it from identifying specific clients.

The P3 team uses the latest tools and methodologies to provide a range of consulting, engineering and testing services to telecom industry players.

“In many cases, if we cannot find the tools in the marketplace, we develop and build them ourselves,” Schwab told FierceWirelessTech via email. “We have been working for more than a year to obtain the Federal approvals and certifications to fly UAVs commercially and only recently obtained clearance to launch our drone program.”

P3 will be performing certain airborne services upon request as well as using drones to complement regular interference investigations, as needed, he said. He declined to say how many carriers are participating, but now that the company has all the clearances, it will deploy drones as needed in carrier projects.

Of course, wireless carriers can use drones on their own, but “carriers have a long history of partnering with consulting and engineering companies, like ours, to fine-tune their networks and solve complex technology challenges,” Schwab noted. “For us, a drone is just one more tool that helps us deliver a broad portfolio of services, which includes engineering, end-to-end optimization, QoS and QoE testing.”

Indeed, wireless operators are increasingly deploying drones and testing them to see where they can help operators better manage their own networks and assist their clients. AT&T, for one, has used outside contractors to help look for coverage gaps at venues like sports stadiums, such as the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium and AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.