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Drones are being used by Reliance Jio for tower surveillance and maintenance ahead of the 5G deployment

Mukesh Ambani-led telco is using its three-year-old shareholding in drone producer Asteria Aerospace to test use cases for drone tower maintenance to save time and money. Drones will be utilised to verify the health of towers and Jio’s assets installed on them during the pilot.

“With the number of towers in the country set to treble in the next several years, digitalizing tower surveillance will be critical,” Asteria Aerospace director and co-founder Neel Mehta told ET.

Jio’s parent company, Reliance Industries (RIL), purchased a 51.78 per cent ownership in the drone manufacturer for Rs 23.12 crore ($3.3 million) in 2019, with plans to invest an additional Rs 125 crore to boost its stake to 87.3 per cent.

Drones, according to Mehta, “not only cut down on time but also create cost efficiency.”

He claims that companies can cut surveying time by roughly 30-40%, he claims, adding that while drones will not be cheaper than sending a human up a tower, the value received will be over 30% higher.

Jio had not responded to ET’s questions as of press time.

Tower businesses that offer tower infrastructure or telecoms that have put electronics on the towers can both use drones, according to industry analysts. You can use them even before erecting a tower to survey the potential tower site. They’re also being used to inspect for damage and even optimise tower usage to maximise revenue, “Mehta explained.

According to Asteria’s Mehta, the Jio-Asteria collaboration is still in the pilot stage, but once scaled up and fine-tuned, the service will be offered to other telcos and tower infrastructure providers.

According to another source familiar with the situation, Jio has no immediate plans to establish expertise in the drone ecosystem, but it does seek to maximise synergies under the umbrella of firms it has invested in to develop new goods and services.

RIL also bought an 83 per cent share in SankhyaSutra Labs, which produces simulation software for aviation, including drones, in 2019. The Sankhya Sutra stake purchase cost RIL Rs 216 crore.

SankhyaSutra generated various simulations that Asteria Aerospace used when designing its drone-based tower upkeep service.