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AT&T and Intel test drones on LTE network

William Payne
February 24, 2016

Telecoms company AT&T and chip maker Intel are partnering on a programme to test high speed mobile networks to connect Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The joint effort is designed to identify problems with using ground based mobile networks with drones flying at different altitudes, and improve ground to air connectivity.

Problems that might be associated with using a high speed ground based cellular mobile network for drone communications include not only issues around altitude and vertical range, but also speed of flight and cell hand-over. At altitude, mobile cell boundaries will become more diffuse and intermingled, posing problems for receivers on board a drone to identify which cell signal is the nearest. Such high altitude diffusion could result in excessive energy loss, as the drone based receiver continuously maximises its power output as it receives multiple weak mobile cell signals.

According to AT&T, features such as a live view of cameras and sensors on the drone or operating it beyond line of sight require a reliable nationwide network for connectivity. The AT&T Internet of Things (IoT) team and the AT&T Foundry innovation centre in Palo Alto, California, are working with Intel to evaluate performance of the LTE network at higher altitudes. They will be testing to see how it affects video streaming, transmitting telematics and flight information.

Connecting drones over the network should help address many challenges the category faces, including safety and security concerns, real time communications, potential interference with manned aircraft and supporting future capabilities (such as beyond line of sight), as they are approved by the FAA.

"AT&T and Intel will be testing how the network can enable the most exciting business use cases for drones," said Chris Penrose, senior vice president, IoT Solutions, AT&T. "Our LTE network is uniquely positioned to connect industries like delivery, agriculture, construction and insurance. We're using the network to transfer important information, images and video quickly and efficiently — far beyond the boundaries of short range connectivity."

"This engagement pushes the boundaries in the UAV industry and will pave the way to a connected world in the Internet of Things," said Anil Nanduri, vice president of the New Technology Group and general manager of New Markets within the Perceptual Computing Group at Intel. "Intel believes UAVs have great potential, from inspections, precision agriculture to deliveries of consumer goods and providing emergency disaster relief. We want to grow this market through our collaborations and by integrating new technologies and compute to UAVs."