AT&T is using drones to conduct cell tower inspections and find birds’ nests that can potentially affect cell coverage, reports Recode.

The telco provider is doing this as part of a new drone initiative it announced in July.

The company is hiring local drone vendors to choose the right drone for each inspection. Currently, technicians are controlling the drones at the ground level to determine whether the towers need to be inspected or a nest needs to be removed. Without a drone, inspecting a bird’s nest could take up to a week and often requires the assistance of an environmental scientist.

AT&T eventually plans to use AI-powered drones to assess problems in the field without the need of a technician. However, since it’s currently illegal under Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) regulations to fly a drone outside the line of sight of the operator, this may not become a legal procedure until 2018, when the FAA is expected to release new regulations.

Telcos should adopt the use of drones for inspecting areas like this, as it can save time and money in an environmentally friendly way. It also eliminates the risk of sending technicians up to cell towers, which can be dangerous, and it ensures the safe removal of birds.

BI Intelligence projects that enterprise drone shipments will exceed 800,000 in 2021, and we expect to see telcos increasingly use drones in operational procedures.

Drones turned the corner in 2015 to become a popular consumer device, while a framework for regulation that legitimizes drones in the US began to take shape. Technological and regulatory barriers still exist to further drone adoption.

Drone manufacturers and software providers are quickly developing technologies like geo-fencing and collision avoidance that will make flying drones safer. The accelerating pace of drone adoption is also pushing governments to create new regulations that balance safety and innovation.

Safer technology and better regulation will open up new applications for drones in the commercial sector, including drone delivery programs like Amazon’s Prime Air and Google’s Project Wing initiatives.

BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s premium research service, has compiled a detailed drones report that forecasts sales revenues for consumer, enterprise, and military drones. It also projects the growth of drone shipments for consumers and enterprises.

The report details several of world’s major drone suppliers and examines trends in drone adoption among several leading industries. Finally, it examines the regulatory landscape in several markets and explains how technologies like obstacle avoidance and drone-to-drone communications will impact drone adoption.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the report:

  • We project revenues from drones sales to top $12 billion in 2021, up from just over $8 billion last year.
  • Shipments of consumer drones will more than quadruple over the next five years, fueled by increasing price competition and new technologies that make flying drones easier for beginners.
  • Growth in the enterprise sector will outpace the consumer sector in both shipments and revenues as regulations open up new use cases in the US and EU, the two biggest potential markets for enterprise drones.
  • Technologies like geo-fencing and collision avoidance will make flying drones safer and make regulators feel more comfortable with larger numbers of drones taking to the skies.
  • Right now FAA regulations have limited commercial drones to a select few industries and applications like aerial surveying in the agriculture, mining, and oil and gas sectors.
  • The military sector will continue to lead all other sectors in drone spending during our forecast period thanks to the high cost of military drones and the growing number of countries seeking to acquire them.

In full, the report:

  • Compares drone adoption across the consumer, enterprise, and government sectors.
  • Breaks down drone regulations across several key markets and explains how they’ve impacted adoption.
  • Discusses popular use cases for drones in the enterprise sector, as well as nascent use case that are on the rise.
  • Analyzes how different drone manufacturers are trying to differentiate their offerings with better hardware and software components.
  • Explains how drone manufacturers are quickly enabling autonomous flight in their products that will be a major boon for drone adoption.

Image credit: BI IntelligenceEstimates 2016
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