Your Towers Can Make a Buck as Meteorological Data Providers

UPDATE We all know that mobile telecommunication is possible because of microwave antennas on wireless towers. As we reported in October in Inside Towers, these cellular networks can also help in monitoring rainfall.

Electromagnetic signals are exchanged between towers, and as it rains, these signals fluctuate. Researchers from WIREs Water found that rainfall attenuates the electromagnetic signals broadcasted from the antenna of one cell tower to another. As rainfall patterns change, so does the power of these signals. Advanced Science News, explained that monitoring the signal losses could then be converted to measure the path-average rain rates in an area. Using cellular microwave links to map space-time precipitation has become a novel measurement technique for rainfall estimates. 

Operational meteorological services, hydrological services, and private consulting firms are attracted to the new environmental measurement tool because they can use the rainfall estimation data to improve the products and services they provide to end users. Researchers from WIREs Waters wrote that mountain lands, urban areas and the developing world all may begin using these rainfall sensors because the densities of traditional rainfall measurement devices are low. Rainfall information is important and highly relevant for agriculture, weather warnings, climate monitoring, and other environmental business services.

The researchers at WIREs Water explained that the number of microwave links used globally for mobile communication is “rapidly growing” and is “currently estimated at 4 million,” which provides an incentive to use this tool as a rain gauge. This could be a very important profitable gain for telecommunication companies if they decided to partner with businesses that are interested in buying their data. Telecommunication companies have network management systems to collect and store all the data from all the links in their cellular communication networks for quality control purposes. The researchers explained that cellular communication companies could reap direct benefits from teaming up with national meteorological services, academia, and consulting firms.

Since 2009, T-Mobile NL provided cellular communication link data free of charge to researchers who were studying the use of microwave links for rainfall estimation. This new measurement method could make cellular communication even more useful and tower providers even more profitable than they already are, if the measurement technique can be fully recognized.  

April 17, 2018

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