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AT&T and Qualcomm to test drones on 4G LTE networks

Steve Rogerson
September 15, 2016
AT&T and Qualcomm are to test unmanned aircraft or drones on commercial 4G LTE networks. The trials will analyse how drones can operate safely and more securely on commercial 4G LTE and networks of the future, including 5G.
The research will look at elements that would impact future drone operations.
The team will look at coverage, signal, strength and mobility across network cells and how they function in flight. The goal of the trials and on-going research is to help enable future drone operations, such as beyond visual line of sight, as regulations evolve to permit them. The ability to fly beyond an operator’s visual range could enable successful delivery, remote inspection and exploration.
“The trial with a carrier with the reach and technology of AT&T is a significant step in the development of connectivity technologies for small unmanned aircraft systems, including optimisation of LTE networks and advancement of 5G technology for drones,” said Matt Grob, executive vice president and chief technology officer at California-based Qualcomm Technologies. “Not only do we aim to analyse wide-scalable LTE optimisation for safe, legal commercial use cases with beyond line-of-sight connectivity, but the results can help inform positive developments in drone regulations and 5G specifications as they pertain to wide-scale deployment of numerous drone use cases.”
Wireless technology can bring many advantages to drones such as ubiquitous coverage, high-speed mobile support, robust security, high reliability and quality of service.
“Many of the anticipated benefits of drones, including delivery, inspections, and search and rescue will require a highly secure and reliable connection,” said Chris Penrose, senior vice president at AT&T. “With a focus on both regulatory and commercial needs, LTE connectivity has the potential to deliver optimal flight plans, transmit flight clearances, track drone location and adjust flight routes in near real time. Solving for the connectivity challenges of complex flight operations is an essential first step to enabling how drones will work in the future.”
The trials will be based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon Flight drone development platform, which is designed with control and navigation capabilities. Already in use in some commercially available drones, the platform uses high fidelity sensor processing, precise localisation, autonomous visual navigation and 4K videography all in an integrated, light-weight model suitable for consumers and enterprises.
Trials will begin later this month at Qualcomm’s San Diego campus. Testing will take place at its FAA-authorised UAS Flight Center and test environment. The centre contains real-world conditions including commercial, residential, uninhabited areas and FAA controlled airspace. This facility permits testing of the use of commercial cellular networks for drones without affecting AT&T’s everyday network operations.
Attendees at last week’s CTIA Super Mobility in Las Vegas saw a video demonstration on Qualcomm’s stand and Grob explained the benefits of LTE-based drone operation during his keynote.
To help product IoT products and services requiring low power and low bandwidth, Verizon will pre-integrate its ThingSpace IoT platform-as-a-service within Qualcomm’s MDM9206 Category M LTE modem.
The initiative also uses Verizon’s 4G LTE network as the gateway for simplifying the process of building, deploying and managing IoT applications customised for a wide range of use cases. The companies announced their IoT collaboration at the start of CTIA Super Mobility and expect that the ThingSpace IoT platform will be available for OEM integration on MDM9206-based products in early 2017.
“When it comes to the internet of things, no single company can go at it alone to scale from the millions of devices to the billions of devices needed to create cleaner cities, deliver better healthcare, conserve water and make the digital world work better for consumers and citizens,” said Mike Lanman, senior vice president at Verizon. “Simplicity is a necessary starting point and working across the ecosystem – at the network, platform and application levels – is also needed to capture the real market opportunity of the internet of things.”