LIVE FROM CTIA SUPER MOBILITY WEEK, LAS VEGAS: Chipset vendor Qualcomm and number two US mobile operator AT&T are teaming up to test drones running over commercial 4G networks.
Trials will begin later this month at Qualcomm Technologies’ San Diego Campus. Testing will take place at its FAA-authorised UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) Flight Center and test environment. The trials will use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Flight drone development platform.
“Our purpose is to promote safe and legal UAS operations in North America using LTE and cellular as a method of connectivity and explore all the issues around that; coverage, capacity and impact on the network,” commented Qualcomm CTO Matt Grob in a panel discussion today.
Grob said an objective of the tests is to also help enable non-line-of-sight drone operations, as regulations evolve to permit them. For example, the ability to fly beyond an operator’s visual range could enable successful delivery, remote inspection and exploration.
“We want to chip away at non-line-of-sight, prove it can be done,” said Grob.
AT&T’s Matt Walsh (director of business development for the operator’s IoT Solutions unit) agreed: “We really want to position ourselves well for when it is time to go beyond line-of-sight so we can demonstrate to the FAA that we can meet the standards necessary.”
A Fortune report this week noted that “if drones are going to take to the skies en masse, there needs to be a way for all those flying robots to link up to a network. Besides being able to keep track of drones so they don’t smash into buildings, a network connection could make it easier for the drones to transmit data, such as aerial photography, back to a company’s data centers or cloud computing services.”
Although the trials will take place on today’s 4G networks, Grob said drones also play an important part in future ‘mission critical’ 5G use cases.
And he claims that Qualcomm has already conducted more than 500 drone flights with a 100 per cent safety and success record.
“Mobile networks were built to connect things on the ground. Nobody thought about connecting things in the sky,” commented AT&T’s Walsh. “That’s why we partnered with Qualcomm.”
AT&T has already shown itself to be a strong supporter of drone technology, launching in July the trial phase of its national drone programme to see how the unmanned aerial vehicles can benefit customers. At this week’s event here in Vegas it also unveiled a partnership with drone player Skycatch. Tracking progress on large construction sites around the world, Skycatch will connect their precision 3D mapping drones with AT&T LTE-connected tablets on the ground to help ensure high accuracy positioning. In February, AT&T said it would partner with Intel on a similar project to the Qualcomm deal, testing how well drones could fly on wireless networks.