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Drones Will Need Access to 5G Services to Put Out Forest Fires and Do More Advanced Tasks

David Jelke



CTIA panelists by David Jelke

WASHINGTON, February 13, 2020 – Meeting at the building of the wireless industry association CTIA on Wednesday, John Kuzin, vice president of government affairs at Qualcomm, likened drones to flying smartphones.

By the same token, drones will require similar speeds and connectivity of 5G telecommunication services. The current 4G standard allows drones to move, turn, and perform other simple operations. “You don’t need a lot of spectrum” to operate today’s drones, Kuzin conceded.

But 5G technology – and spectrum – will be required to unlock the potential for drones to do things like put out forest fires, track objects of interest, and communicate with other drones. Kuzin argued that the cellular network will provide the best framework for inter-drone communication, and panelists agreed.

Others vented their frustrations with government regulation.

Melissa Glidden Tye, associate general counsel of emerging technologies at Verizon, lamented how the Federal Aviation Administration took two years to release a proposal for a system of remote drone identification.

Remote identification is the technology that would allow the FAA to digitally assess a drone in the same way a cop can check the license plate of a car to find its owner. Kuzin also summarized the top-priority roadblocks that the FAA has yet to tackle: Finalizing the rules for remote identification, flying drones at night, flying drones above people, and flying drones outside of the operator’s line of site.

Joe Cramer, director of global spectrum management at Boeing, said that the FAA may be holding back its approval out of a desire to see stronger assurances by industry regarding oversight.

Specifically, he said the FAA wants drone operators to use an “aviation safety spectrum allocation.” This allocation would preserve a small slice of bandwidth for emergency drone operations, such as movement and landing and prevent property from being damaged and lives from being lost.

Cramer said that if the U.S. doesn’t work on securing parts of the 5 GigaHertz (GHz) band of spectrum for unmanned aircraft systems soon, then other countries will launch satellites that take that bandwidth. That would be nearly-impossible to undo.

As Tye said earlier in the panel, ” there’s not a lot of spectrum just layin’ around.”


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