Huawei & China Mobile to Build World's First Cellular Test Networks for Logistics Drones

Huawei has signed a strategic cooperation memorandum of understanding (MoU) with China Mobile Group Sichuan and Fonair Aviation. The three companies will work together on cross-industry joint innovation, combining next-generation mobile communication technologies with logistics drones. The eventual aim is to build the first cellular test network for regional logistics drones.

The logistics industry is welcoming a new age of "big aviation" - "unmanned" and "intelligent" are two key words that will ultimately help realize the future of logistics as the industry strives to make technology breakthroughs. Logistics drones not only have the potential to slash distribution costs, but also boost efficiency and resolve delivery issues in remote areas. Meanwhile, the rise of logistics drones sets out to define a new list of communication requirements. These include drone security status monitoring, real-time location and availability status monitoring, and beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) control. In the future, the mobile communications network will extend its coverage from the ground to low-altitude airspace. Such an extension will suit the needs of connected drones, enabling various applications ranging from real-time drone management to safe flying and logistics surveys. Low-altitude airspace coverage will also contribute to better airspace utilization for a generation of huge potential economic value.

The three companies will pool their resources for delivering joint innovation. China Mobile Sichuan will build the world's first cellular test network for regional logistics drones. Huawei will provide advanced mobile communication technologies for the network to ensure low-altitude airspace coverage and network performance. Fonair Aviation intends to provide the drone equipment and application scenarios. The three will then study logistics drones' requirements on cellular communication. This will include cooperation in testing drone status monitoring, data backhaul, BVLOS control, and various other drone services, as well as the completion of several end-to-end technical verifications.

Network connection is a primary requirement for drone communication. The line-of-sight (LOS) communication mode, which has been adopted by most current drones, falls short of the application requirements of long-distance regional logistics drones. Moreover, the present satellite communication system is impractical for logistics drones as it suffers from long latency and high cost. Mobile communication networks on the other hand can use existing massive amounts of site resources to provide drones with three-dimensional (3D) coverage. In addition, 5G is set to enable a significant leap in a connected drones' application. The improved bandwidth of 5G networks promises to enhance transmission of information while 5G ultra-low latency ensures more precise drone control.

Huawei Wireless X Labs released its digital sky initiative in November 2017. The purpose was to provide network coverage for low-altitude airspace, spur development of drone applications, and enable low airspace digital economy via technical research and innovation. This collaboration is a critical project for the digital sky initiative. It also marks an essential step in applying mobile communication technologies for the aviation industry.

China boasts leading communication technologies, the most well-developed drone industry, and the largest logistics market. China Mobile Sichuan, Fonair Aviation, and Huawei will draw on their own strengths and collaborate on the demonstration of cellular-empowered drone communication. Such collaborative efforts will lead the innovation and development of the entire logistics industry.