5G Verizon drones

AT&T, Verizon 5G shook up airlines lately, but the drone industry is leaning in

Airline executives might not have been happy with telecom giants like AT&T and Verizon and their handling of some aspects of 5G. But the drone industry might actually be dependent on those telecom giants like AT&T or Verizon 5G and the products they entail.

Some aspects of the airline industry last week stirred up concern after stating that they believed there could be operation threat from the impending rollout of 5G technology. Among the dire consequences suggested included thousands of delayed, diverted or canceled flights.

“The implementation of 5G around affected airports threatens to disrupt domestic and international air travel, delay thousands of passengers, and cause unnecessary economic harm to the nation and the entire travel industry – not just airlines,” according to a statement from the U.S. Travel Association.

Airline CEOs as well as industry representatives sent messages calling for a pause on 5G rollout. And in response, AT&T and Verizon agreed to temporarily delay 5G deployment at major airports.

The news comes in response to an $81 billion sale last year when the Federal Communications Commission auctioned off the C-band spectrum to US wireless carriers last year that would allow them to provide robust 5G service. Airlines have said that such technology at play near airports could interfere with aircraft radar altimeters, which is a key instrument that tells pilots how high their plane is off the ground, particularly relevant when flying in low-visibility conditions.

5G drones

What Verizon 5G and other telecom giants mean for the drone industry

But for the drone industry, 5G is key, illustrating another point in the list of differences between the drone industry and the manned aviation industry (for what it’s worth, there are plenty of similarities).

5G is short for “fifth-generation networks”, and it theoretically entails significantly faster network speeds than the current standard, 4G. With drones, that translates to being able to quickly transfer massive files from a mapping project; allow for high-quality live streaming which is relevant to broadcast TV, surveillance, drone racing and more; and generally allow for sending large amounts of data.

The drone industry is leaning in. Over on the East Coast, a 5G drone test is underway that makes New York the first FAA-designated UAS test site with a bespoke 5G network.

And likewise, most of the major telecom giants are leaning into drones in a symbiotic relationship of sorts. While there are many similarities, many are taken a slightly varied approach. This is certainly far from a comprehensive list, but here are some of the most interesting ways that the biggest telecom companies are diving into drones:

AT&T and 5G

Early on, AT&T set out to use drones to fix crappy cell phone service at concerts. While that vision didn’t pan out as intended, AT&T is certainly still forging ahead with drones.

AT&T launched its 5G Innovation Studio in April 2021, where it will test 5G-centric applications across the spectrum. One major drone project is a partnership between AT&T, which includes Microsoft and drone company EVA to explore how AT&T’s 5G network and edge computing could be used for near real-time drone control. EVA is working to build “drone ports” which are essentially small-scale airports for drones to enable drone delivery.

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The T-Mobile Magenta drone from DRL

T-Mobile and 5G

Last year, the Drone Racing League announced the launch of its first-ever 5G DRL racing drone called Magenta, which makes it possible to live stream high-definition racing footage. The 5G component of Magenta is executed through a partnership with T-Mobile.

While most drone racers fly via analog radio transmissions because it typically allows for lower latency (a crucial component in drones), the quality of live footage is sacrificed. As 5G technology improves, pilots would see high-quality, crisp FPV footage in their goggles — with low latency. Meanwhile, fans will be able to experience FPV clips on their own mobile devices to gain that same sensation that they are flying inside the drone in real-time. 

“Drones are one of the most compelling use cases for 5G and we’re working towards a future where all drones will eventually be 5G-connected – that’s why we’ve teamed up with DRL, to fuel this innovation,” said Neville Ray, President of Technology at T-Mobile in a prepared statement.

Verizon 5G
A scenario where drones leverage Verizon 5G Edge and AWS Wavelength Capabilities. Courtesy of Verizon.

Verizon 5G and drones

Verizon’s first major leap into drones came from when Verizon acquired Skyward in 2017. That’s led to a natural test of 5G, including testing 5G integration for drone delivery to The Villages, a retirement community in Florida.

French drone maker Parrot announced an exclusive partnership in 2021 with Verizon to bring the first out-of-the-box, Verizon 4G LTE connected drone solution to the U.S. That means that now you can fly with your Parrot ANAFI Ai drone from anywhere there’s a signal with near real time data transfer.

In 2020, Verizon launchedmobile edge computing in a partnership with Amazon Web Services that brings the compute and storage services of AWS Wavelength, which is a real-time cloud computing platform, to the edge of Verizon’s wireless network. The combined product enables tech companies tobuild and deploy a variety of applications such as machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT), and video and game streaming — and there’s one drone use case in particular that has jumped out: drone and energy management applications that require latency many times faster than the blink of an eye.

Easy Aerial, an American drone company building military-grade, autonomous drone-in-a-box-based monitoring and inspection solutions was able to collect and transfer live drone video for near real-time object detection and telemetry data for rapid processing and analysis due to the low end-to-end latency enabled by Verizon 5G Edge with AWS Wavelength. 5G and mobile edge computing also allowed expensive compute to be removed from the drone, reportedly saving about 10% in drone costs and increasing flight time by approximately 40%.

That service continues to expand, having recently expanded by more than 30% in terms of number of metro area locations with mobile edge computing, including Charlotte, Detroit, Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

“Being able to utilize the high bandwidth for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that Verizon 5G Edge with AWS Wavelength provides is a game changer,” said Ivan Stamatovski, CTO of Easy Aerial. “It shifts the paradigm on what is possible to achieve with airborne sensors by processing data at the edge of the network in near real-time.”

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