Can Cellular Networks Support Aviation Functions?   

In the ongoing series of webinars from The Global UTM Association (GUTMA), the fourth installment considers the possibility of cellular networks becoming the fabric to support aviation functions.

Six speakers from different regions and functions addressed this topic.  The organisations represented included research, telecommunications and small technology companies in the field of UTM.  The companies who participated in the session were University of California – San Diego, Meteomatics, Involi, Qualcomm, Ericsson and Dimetor.  Some of these brands are already well-known and some are not.

Let’s touch on two of the newer market entrants in more detail.  Beginning with Involi, who is providing air traffic awareness for low altitude traffic via sensors.  These sensors are placed on existing infrastructure such as roof tops and telecommunications antennas in order to monitor the traffic of drones.  The goal is to ultimately integrate this information with the air navigation service provider (ANSP) data that monitors air traffic at higher altitudes.  They are working with remote ID and have already participated in a use case trial on this topic along with another focused on 5G unmanned vehicle vertical applications.  The latter utilises the 5G network infrastructure for communications that could support activities such as public safety.

The second organization to highlight is Dimetor, who has two areas of focus AirborneRF and AirborneAI.  AirborneRF is using cellular networks to enable beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations.  When a drone operator would like to travel, they can use this functionality to calculate where they can safety fly within radio/cellular coverage and follow the rules of the airspace.  This ensures reliable control of the UAV.  It can also change calculations during flight.  In the future, this tool could be used to help public safety, package delivery and infrastructure management organisations to plan their operations.

AirborneAI uses AI and machine learning to analyse data collected by UAVs regarding the cellular infrastructure support capabilities. Where is there a strong enough signal, for example.  In the future, these two solutions will be combined to help organisations desiring to survey their infrastructure such as telecommunications towers, powerlines, oil wells, pipelines, etc.

ATM had the opportunity to ask the panelist for their views on a few additional questions outside of those presented during the webinar.

Q – Do you envision a scenario where airlines, airports and ANSPs could deploy private LTE networks to support their business communications?

A – There was a positive response to this idea.  As we are already seeing large manufacturing organisations move down this path, it’s not that far of a reach to see this in this industry.  Although there was a qualification that it would more likely be 5G focused vs. LTE in this market.  In general, this was viewed as a high potential but with the caveat that legislation and standards still need to be aligned.

Q – How could UTM play a role for enabling communications, as opposed to being a user of communications?

A – Yes, this could happen.  The telecommunications companies would have to be more closely aligned.  Mobile network operators have to be involved in developing these networks and it remains to be seen if this makes sense from a business perspective.  From a technology perspective it is possible.  A private network for specific customers enabled by 5G drones for example.

Q – How could the sharing of information between UTM and ATM be enabled via telecoms technologies?

A – In the future, every flying vehicle in the sky will be connected using telecommunications networks and software will bring together UTM and ATM in order to enable UAV and drone taxis.  Any autonomous flying vehicle will have to have this type of information sharing.

The ongoing GUTMA webinar series of telecommunications and UTM aligning continues to offer new and exciting ideas in support of this scenario.  There are two more webinars to come, you might consider joining if you’re interested in these topics.



  1. Two companies and their products presented. Four questions answered, sama that has been answered so many times. A lot of smoke, without fire.
    Why every time FUTURE UTM or 5G is in these articles. At first and second phase, 5G will be using such frequencies, cell matrix must be around 100m and covered area really tiny. Does not solve anything – AND since 4G speed is enough, its enough.
    ANS Finland has correct attitude, “Just Do It”

  2. Having years of telecom experience bringing new technologies to market, I can confirm that the industry talks about things for years before they happen. This is also the case with 5G. Just for it to even be available, using it for UTM is a step even further. The issue you bring up depends on the application. I would agreed that 4G is enough for basic tracking. If you are trying to stream live video for a search and rescue operation or use drones for video advertising/entertainment – then it may not be The bigger issue to me is where the technology is deployed vs. which technology it is. There are many places you might need to use this today where you won’t even find consistent 4G.

    • Near future aviation services are too often linked to far future 5G connections and even there is many questions how 5G really serves fast moving drones or aircrafts.
      These new services are needed in a year or so, but wide 5G coverage comes much later.
      It will be interesting to see, who makes e.g. first drone traffic management system operational that ATCO is able to see all traffic. Flight plans might be done with 5G smartphones, but I do quess, real time system will not work through 5G connections. We will see..

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