edotco commits to digital transformation wave
EVERY industry in today’s business environment is virtually being disrupted and the telecommunications industry is no different. But while mobile operators’ products and services have always been in the limelight over some of these disruptions, many don’t realise that even telecommunications infrastructure players are not being spared from changes seen in the industry.
This is why one such player, edotco Group Sdn Bhd, is bracing itself for changes in the coming years, declared its Director of Group Operations, Muniff Kamarudin (pic, above). In a recent interview with Digital News Asia (DNA), Muniff revealed that edotco has been embarking on an ambitious plan to move away from just being a tower construction and management company.
“It’s been three-and-a-half years since we’ve embarked on these efforts and we feel it’s time to monetise and show the results,” said Muniff.
edotco began life as a spin-off business from Axiata Group Bhd in 2013. The Axiata subsidiary’s mandate is to own, operate and manage the passive network infrastructure of the Axiata Group as a business and will have subsidiaries in most of Axiata’s markets.
Axiata President and Group Chief Executive Officer, Tan Sri Jamaludin Ibrahim had then said, “edotco will unlock the value of Axiata’s assets by driving new levels of operational efficiency in passive infrastructure management and diversifying our revenue streams.”
Since then, the company has been on an aggressive track having invested further in acquiring other tower assets beginning with Myanmar Tower Company and Robi Towers in 2015. In 2017, it further acquired towers from Pakistan Mobile Communications Limited (PMCL) together with Dawood Hercules Corporation Limited (DH Corp).
And in 2018, it completed a takeover of the energy assets and management on 1,250 telecommunications tower sites from Ooredoo Myanmar Limited. In those intervening years, it also secured funding from INCJ/Khazanah and KWAP.
To date, Muniff revealed that edotco either owns or operates and manages about 27,700 towers in six countries – Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Malaysia. It also claims to be the 12th largest tower company in the world, and has recently won an award from Frost and Sullivan.
Four focus points
Underpinning edotco’s transformation are four focus points, namely: real-time efficient operations; advanced analytics ; predictive capabilities; and future proofing the company, Muniff explained.
Muniff said the goal of real-time efficiencies is to ensure that edotco receives the most accurate and up-to-date information from its tower assets.
“For example, we have a software called echo that monitors in real-time batteries, rectifiers and generator sets (gensets) to make sure they are working in good condition. These assets are equipped with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors that can help us manage our maintenance scheduling.
“For asset management, we have the software easi, which helps us keep track of inventory and workforce (field technicians) management,” Muniff said, adding that all these tools help edotco ensure that what it has in reality matches what’s in its database.
Meanwhile, advanced analytics is about automating reports so that users do not have to churn them out manually, Muniff said. “We have a lot of data but it has to be actionable. Moreover, we have also moved everyone on to cloud analytics-based applications and mobile apps to further gain efficiencies.”
As for predictive capabilities, Muniff revealed that edotco has been collecting data and trying to use it to mitigate against bad weather in countries such as Bangladesh, where storms frequently knock out the power grid.
He noted that from March to August yearly, the electricity grid outages in Bangladesh cause many towers to be down and portable gensets must be deployed to keep things going.
“Imagine the large areas that could be affected. We need to be able to predict where to send the gensets as resources are limited, and to do so before the rainy seasons starts. Once we have enough weather data we can send the gensets on time to the places concerned. We can also use data for predictive and corrective maintenance.”
But by far the most ambitious project edotco has come up with to date is to try and future proof its operations. This effort involves using drones in tandem with artificial intelligence and machine learning to help further enhance its services.
According to Muniff, there are three major use cases for drone use within edotco. The first is site surveys in lieu of skylifts; the second is network assessments; and the third is revenue assurance.
Muniff said site surveys are typically done by hiring skylifts and utilising human site surveyors to complete jobs such as taking photographs and videos and other measurements such as antenna azimuths (an arc of a horizon measured between a fixed point) and tower height data. With drones, manual human labour can be minimised and efficiencies increased, he pointed out.
Besides this, drones can be used to do network assessment or the inspection of network assets or maintenance assessment such as to find out what is missing, evaluate maintenance issues such as rusted screws, and whether antennas (pic, above) are in their correct positions and azimuths, Muniff added.
Muniff said drones can also be used to verify if the inventory lines up with what’s in edotco’s database. This is crucial as edotco needs the right number to ensure that it is accurately billing its customers – hence the term ‘revenue assurance.’
“We are already in the midst of doing this and we plan to carry out 100 cases in 2018 beginning with Malaysia,” he said, declining to reveal who the drone operator is except to say that it is “the largest one in Malaysia.”
As for the use of machine learning, Muniff revealed that for network inspection, currently humans are still involved in identifying if a bolt is missing or rusted or if the antenna position is off.
“Over a period of time, we have plans to use machine learning to automatically capture such defects and flag them as such without human intervention,” he explained. “This is something we’re working on but we need to have very exhaustive data sets. We are not there yet but this is our ambition moving forward.”
Asked how edotco is quantifying such gains with these investments, Muniff said that by leveraging on automation, advanced data analytics, artificial intelligence, drones, mobility apps and augmented reality, edotco has been making its business operations systems leaner, more agile and cost-effective.
“The usage of drones results in faster data collation and report generation, turnaround time for reports has now reduced by 35%,” he claimed.
Besides this, Muniff also revealed that edotco has been experimenting with new hybrid-type structures to aid with its green initiatives.
In collaboration with Bangladesh University of Engineering (BUET), Muniff said edotco Bangladesh had conceptualised a ‘bamboo-steel hybrid tower’ (pic, above) utilising natural, sustainable resources which has lessened the impact on the environment.
“This has recorded a carbon emission reduction of 70%,” Muniff claimed.
He also said other green initiatives involved using digital padlocks at remote tower sites, which not only enhances security but lessens the need for field operation technicians to drive around to collect padlock keys.
“In tandem with easi our asset lifecycle management of our entire operations of edotco’s sites are tracked. Together with edotco’s smart padlocks, these systems have reduced theft by 30%, vandalism and other safety risks while improving uptime for customers,” he claimed.