UK regulator Ofcom outlined plans to establish a spectrum licensing regime for commercial drones, with the aim of allowing operators to use mobile and satellite networks to deliver services via the unmanned flying devices.

The regulator said it has been working with the government and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to develop a new approach for authorising the radio equipment needed on drones. It has now opened a consultation on its proposals, and is inviting responses by 5 September 2022. It plans to publish its decision by November.

In a statement, the regulator said advances in drone technology have created a range of commercial opportunities across several industries, from doorstep deliveries to machinery maintenance.

Ofcom’s spectrum interim group director Helen Hearn said the aim is to ensure that businesses “can access the spectrum they need to harness the full potential of the latest drone technology”.

Ofcom currently allows drones to use airwaves designated for model aircraft or for Wi-Fi, but noted that this is unsuitable for the services offered by the latest generation of drone.

The proposed Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Operator Radio licence would authorise licensed operators to use mobile and satellite terminals for control and transmission of data and video; as well as safety equipment to avoid collisions.

The new licence would not replace the current licence exemption regime for low power 2.4GHz and 5GHz equipment currently used by most drones on the market.