Internet of the Skies - The Future of Cellular Drones

What’s needed for us to move towards the future of drones? According to experts, the next step must be towards ensuring that future drones are connected via cellular networks and there is collaboration between the aviation and telecom industries in order to secure public trust in drones.

The Global Unmanned Traffic Management Association (GUTMA) on Connected Skies, a major conference on drones and UTM, aims to work on this prospect, and for the first time ever will bring the aviation and telecoms industry together under one roof. The event will consider key technical concepts, aerial LTE coverage, 5G in aviation deployment road mapping and much more. GSMA, the trade body organization representing the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, has also extended its support for the conference.

At this year’s Mobile World Congress Barcelona, the GSMA seminar “The Internet of the Skies – Connecting Drones”, considered the vast array of use cases and enhanced regulatory landscape needed to win the public confidence, which is so crucial to their deployment. The seminar demonstrated that mobile operators are well positioned to support the growth of drones thanks to the infrastructure already in place which allows for the delivery of data between them, as well as the security mechanisms to ensure their reliability.

Telefonica, at the event, presented an example on how drones can be used in several ways to monitor wild fire. In Spain alone, $1.8 Billion is spent every year putting out such fires. The role of the mobile network and cellular drones to control fires like these and mitigate the human, environmental and financial costs they create, requires the ubiquity of mobile networks.

So what are the principal assets that mobile networks can offer this burgeoning industry?  In three words: coverage, reliability and security. As Telefonica’s Global IoT Business Manager Luis Semelder pointed out, when drones are deployed for uses beyond visual line of sight, they will need cellular technology. According to him, mobile networks are unrivaled in the drones market; there’s just no way that WiFi or Bluetooth can offer the same level of reliability. Vital too will be the buy-in that comes from widespread trust.  As Intel’s VP for Next Generation Systems Mark Davis pointed out, this is a pivotal two years for the drone sector. Not only from the perspective of technological development, but in terms of public acceptance.  Drones are generally seen as a disruptive technology – which sounds great in some spaces, but perhaps less so in aviation, where safety is everything.

But how to create public trust in this market? The answer lies in deepening collaboration between participating industries – chiefly telecoms and aviation – and the effective regulation that can yield. People need to feel safe with these technologies and, as was seen, calls to ban drones can quickly arise where they do not. How do people know that a drone they see in public is licensed to be there, asks Verizon’s VP for Aviation Policy and Standards, Jonathan Evans. According to him, it’s fundamentals like these that operators can help to underpin. And that’s an area where the mobile industry can really contribute – to provide a trust framework to check the Silicon Valley-style speed of innovation that’s taking place.

At the GSMA conference, there was enthusiastic agreement around the room both that regulation should be based on standardization and that if the technology is right, the regulation should be light. But it’s up to the industry to help that happen if we want to help governments avoid creating further barriers. GSMA will continue this conversation at the Connected Skies conference on 18-20 June in Portland, Oregon, USA. Click here to view more highlights from MWC 19 Barcelona.

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