Ericsson Using Drones to Evaluate 5G Coverage and Run Verification Tests

A project team based in Jorvas, Finland and led by Ericsson’s 5G Readiness Program has developed a novel system for testing cellular mobile network coverage. The new system uses mobile network testing scanners and smartphones from Rohde & Schwarz mounted on a drone that can be programmed to execute automatic tests with considerable flexibility, for example for precise route selection and drone speed control. This solution is especially valuable for industrial use cases. It also has the advantages over traditional walk and drive tests by providing unprecedented repeatability and positional accuracy with the ability to verify beamforming and map coverage in 3D.

Rohde & Schwarz has supplied mobile network testing tools used in drone-based network coverage, performance and operation tests managed by Ericsson. The unique procedure enables unprecedented 3D accessibility, positional accuracy and repeatability of the testing. It also opens up new possibilities to ensure end-user Quality of Service (QoS) for demanding 5G use cases such as industry 4.0, automotive and public safety. 

The deployment of 5G New Radio (NR) brings new applications of cellular networks for subscribers, government and industry. It also makes the verification of the correct coverage, performance, and operation of networks more critical, increasing the demand for accuracy and accessibility in traditional field network tests.

The R&S TSMA6 network scanner is mounted on a drone and is able to simultaneously verify important LTE and 5G NR coverage metrics such as reference signal received power (RSRP) and signal-to-interference-plus-noise ratio (SINR) in accordance with 3GPP standards. When combined with the R&S QualiPoc Android smartphone-based optimizer, IP trace, application QoS metrics such as serving cell parameters are possible. The solution currently uses LTE user equipment (UE) but will soon be further developed to include 5G UEs such as the Samsung S10 5G. 

The drone can be programmed to follow an exact three-dimensional route. The over 20 successful measurement flights conducted so far have shown the solution procedure and results to be extremely repeatable. The drone flights were of various duration, altitudes, and routes, depending on the test case. Control, authentication and air traffic control are considerable challenges to the development of robust drone-based solutions. In this new system, they are conducted over cellular networks, eliminating the requirement for line-of-sight connection between the drone and its pilot. 

The project is a collaboration between Ericsson, Rohde & Schwarz, Tampere University and Centria University of Applied Sciences and forms part of the Business Finland 5G FORCE program. 

Future developments will focus on testing critical 5G applications such as public safety and machine-type communications for Industry 4.0, extending the frequency to extremely high frequencies of the mmWave bands and testing in an urban environment. For more information on mobile network optimization by Rohde & Schwarz, click here.

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