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Tests have shown that cellular networks are suitable for serving drones in low-altitude airspace, which is ideal since the majority of drones fly fairly low and cell coverage is high above buildings and trees as most of the obstructive ground clutter is below. 4G and 5G therefore deliver effective and efficient connectivity for drones while maintaining the performance of ground-based mobile devices.
5G technology for unmanned aerial systems was first demonstrated in 2019 by Airbus Industries. Plymouth Rock Technologies claims that its X1 multirotor drone is the first commercially available drone with 5G capabilities.
The company will soon begin initial production with integrated 5G command and control modules as standard.
5G cellular data will enable three prominent drone technologies in particular – Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management (UTM), Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flights, and Sensor Data Transmission (SDTX).
UTM, the system for unmanned traffic management under definition by the FAA and analogous to the European U-Space initiative, will deliver a globally standardized technology, allowing 5G networks to be integrated with these traffic management systems to enhance the safety and security of commercial drone operations.
BVLOS will open up applications for UAVs that are currently restricted in most jurisdictions around the world to low-altitude operations (below 120m or 400ft) within the visual line of sight of a human pilot. With BVLOS, both remote-controlled and autonomous drones will be able to fly further and longer, making drone operations for many industries more efficient.
SDTX is a critical application used when data is transmitted to ground stations beyond the remote-control station of the pilot, for both live broadcasting of the drone’s sensor payload data and saving time for data processing. Due to the large amount of data and AI processing involved, a data connection with a large bandwidth is required, for which 5G is highly suited, according to unmannedsystemstechnology.com.
The X1 has both short-range capabilities, along with an optional military-grade system that enables BVLOS up to 60 miles. The addition of operational 5G capabilities using cellular networks will deliver command and control connections over unlimited distances provided that the drone has cellular network coverage around it. This also enables the X1 to be controlled, deliver and receive information in real time from and to anywhere in the world.