Aviation plus Telecommunications – the answer to safe drone management?

The sixth and final installment of the ongoing series of webinars from The Global UTM Association (GUTMA), the connection between aviation and mobile network operators (MNOs) was the topic of the day.  Four speakers addressed this, all with views from different geographic regions.  The companies joining the call were TEOCO, KPN, OneSky and Telstra.

TEOCO provides analytics, assurance and optimisation solutions to communication service providers (CSPs) and OEMs worldwide. During the webinar, they discussed the alignment of priorities between UAV operators and MNOs and how they could work together for a win-win outcome.  From the drone operator perspective, the ‘win’ of working with an MNO is to ensure critical communications including remote identification, geo-awareness, command & control along with lawful intercept notification.  Secondarily, video/image data and sensor information transfer. MNOs view the UAV market as a new revenue stream.  More than just providing connectivity they are able to offer network-based redundant geo data, SLA-based critical communications and dedicated 5G network slices in support of specific UAV operations.

Moving on to KPN who is looking at commercial drone services in conjunction with 5G.  They have been participating in trials that consider commercial use cases such as inspections and monitoring, safety and emergency and value logistics.  The solution provided by KPN could range from operations to connectivity to UTM functionality.  The company has been involved in this topic since 2018 as a founding member of the Amsterdam Drone Week.  In 2019, they joined a consortium to trial a medical drone service and they are a co-founder of the Dutch Drone Delta.  The group focuses on creating opportunities within the Netherlands for passenger and freight transport via drones or Urban Air Mobility (UAM).

Telstra is also partnering with TEOCO in order to bring together the 5G telecommunications network with their AirborneRF solution providing a link between cellular networks and aviation systems, such as air traffic management (ATM), unmanned traffic management (UTM) and flight information management systems (FIMS).  They will also participate in Uber’s flying taxi trial in Melbourne.  Telstra will be providing mobile network infrastructure and communications.

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

Q – Do you see MNOs offering services that are specific to drone operators?  Such as connectivity, plus security, plus management tools?

A – At the simplest level, the answer is yes.  There are many areas MNOs can play to address these topics.  Starting with basics such as connectivity/infrastructure and security, but also moving up the value chain to provide solutions that address:

  • Redundant geo-location information as a backup to GNSS for positioning
  • Remote identification and authorisation
  • Position verification and augmentation
  • Terrain data and micro weather reporting.

Q – Do you see regional differences – APAC vs. EMEA for example, in the way the MNOs are approaching this market opportunity?

A – There aren’t major differences between the regions currently.  They are all moving in the direction of supplying connectivity to drone operators.  There is certainly a desire to move up the value chain and this is where we might see different regions moving at different speeds. The assumption is that MNOs will go down the same path as with IoT.  Initially connectivity only and then growing to an end-to-end managed solution including security and performance measurements

Q – Do you see MNOs partnering with ANSPs to link drone management data?

A – This is already happening with the notable example being Droniq.  The joint venture created between DFS and Deutsche Telekom.  There is an expectation that additional similar ventures will be announced during 2020.

Watching these two industries come closer together in collaboration toward UAV solutions is an exciting time.  The telecom industry continues to find new vertical markets to have an impact in, especially with the onset of 5G deployments.  The aviation industry could leverage many of the lessons learned from the MNOs as they work to integrate UAV traffic into their current ATM solutions.