The discussion around mobile network operators providing communications to drones has been heating up, but what about telecom equipment solution vendors and drones? Ericsson met with ATM Magazine during Amsterdam Drone Week to share their progress on this topic.

At the corporate level there is a view towards digital airspace. The basically means using the mobile system in the air, 3GPP connectivity for any vehicle in the sky up to 10 km high. This opens a new market for communications service providers. Teracom in Sweden has launched an aerial network for support of vehicles in the air. The network is interconnected to their mobile network and delivers mobile communication from 200 metres and up. The service provides 5G connectivity in dedicated airspace.

With the support of the Ericsson One internal accelerator program, Ericsson Drone Mobility was created three years ago. Initially they were focused on leveraging Ericsson’s IoT strategy for drone connectivity within cities. According to their website, their current focus is on enabling enterprise drones to fly Beyond Visual Line-Of-Sight (BVLOS) securely and efficiently with telco-grade encryption and data security solutions, powering enterprises to make decisions in real time.

Let’s consider taking this vision into the reality of today’s solution. Currently they have an android software client for drones to make them smarter. Live steaming can be enabled from the drone in support of inspection, public safety, and media. What’s really interesting if you combine this with advanced telecom network functionality is the ability to direct bandwidth when they really needs. Leveraging telecom-grade encryption, drone system control platforms can be secured. They are currently focusing on the EU and Americas as BVLOS regulation is further along in these regions.

Coming back to the corporate side of Ericsson, the topic of private 5G networks came up. They have already worked with airports to implement these networks as an enhancement to public networks. One idea for the future would be the implementation of a private 5G network to support take-off and landing for eVTOL UAM flights. Ericsson recently met with Lilium to discuss collaboration on connectivity for these flights. Maybe this is the way forward?

The last item to mention is the testing of the telecom networks for gaps that could impact the communications with drones when using their mobile networks. There are a lot of companies out there saying they will do the testing and notify the telecoms, but then what? Ericsson is talking about creating value packs of fixes to these gaps so they can be more quickly implemented.

This all sounds like a ‘space to watch’ from my perspective!