Drones Looking at LTE, 5G

Carl Weinschenk
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6 Devices Poised to Disrupt Your Network in 2016

The age of drones is here. The next evolution is that they will go higher and further.

Many sites, including Ars Technica, report that AT&T and Intel are going to be test running drones on the carrier’s LTE network. The test drones – which now are managed by less powerful networking protocols such as Bluetooth – will test using the more powerful network to reach 500 feet in altitude, which is the legal limit. Eventually, however, they could use LTE to go far beyond.

Currently, according to the story, drones are limited to line-of-sight management by pilots on the ground. If the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ever loosens up the rules, the story says, many more applications would be possible. The story also says that the use of LTE could limit what experts see as dangerous issues related to interference with manned aircraft that exist today.


Intel sees big potential in drones. PC World took a closer look at how Intel CEO Brian Krzanich approaches the topic. The bottom line is that his end game is 5G, not LTE:

On a 4G network, Krzanich said, there are problems with data drops and data speed, especially in dense urban areas with lots of big, signal-blocking buildings. 'No matter how good the network is, you will have latency,' Krzanich said. 'The drone needs to stay connected at all times. To disrupt how packages are delivered, we have to have 5G.'

The idea, then, is that at least for Intel, LTE may be a brief stopover. It will be interesting to see if drones are specifically addressed in 5G standards and, if they are, how so.

There is drone news on the ground, as well. USA Today reports that Starship Technologies, a company based in England and Estonia, will begin tests of earthbound delivery drones in England in March and the U.S. in April. 

The company’s CEO is Ahti Heinla, a co-founder of Skype. The drones aren’t super speedy. But they do get around:

The ground drones are capable of carrying the equivalent of two grocery bags, and customers set the time for the delivery. Fully loaded, they weigh about 40 pounds and travel at a speed of about four miles an hour, the equivalent of a brisk walk or slow jog.

The story didn’t detail where the U.S. trials will be conducted.

Drones certainly are a factor. Indeed, Fox Business reports that as of last Friday, 320,000 piloted aircraft were registered with the FAA – and 368,472 drones.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.



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