If we look around the telecommunications industry we see many of these companies getting involved in the world of drones. Some from the perspective of using drones in their infrastructure maintenance, others providing connectivity services and some providing drone operations solutions. Air Traffic Management Magazine, spoke with Dave Pankhurst, BT’s Director of Drones to learn more about their solutions in the area of drones.

About 5 – 6 years ago, BT looked at new markets which held potential for future growth in new areas and over time selected drones as an area of interest. The concept was that a drone is a device that needs to have connectivity in order for the end users to use it to its fullest extent or an IoT device in the sky. The next logical step was to start to understand how to integrate drones into their IoT vision, but to do this by working with partners as opposed to trying to build an entire solution in-house. As a result, late last year the drone solutions function moved from the Enterprise Innovation Growth organisation to a new team focused on creating, amplifying and investing in new areas.  This is where Dave’s organisation resides.

BT is looking at the drone opportunity via a few different scenarios. Let’s consider each one of these individually.

Connectivity:  Air-to-ground connectivity between the drone and the person flying the drone to support autonomous flight, BVLOS, remote video applications, situational awareness and device (ie – the drone) security.  Being able to provide coverage, quality of service and a solution that can’t be hacked. One possible idea for the future would be to provide an UTM platform that also includes mobile network coverage and bandwidth information to be used in drone flight planning.

Counter UAS: BT is partnering with DroneShield to provide counter UAS solutions that are managed by an enterprise to meet their requirements. They will work with the enterprise to identify their requirements, develop a customised solution, install the solution and train the enterprise team to manage it. This could be used by any enterprise managing critical infrastructure/assets or needing to protect confidential activities from drone surveillance.

Skyway drone superhighway:  BT is also part of the recently announced Skyway project. During the UKRI Future Flight phase 2, it was all about testing and learning. Future Flight phase 3 will result in a usable solution and will add additional drone operators over time. BT will spend the next two years of the project enabling communications for BVLOS at scale and considering what services could be offered to drone operations providers such as situational awareness with partner DroneShield. During the project, Altitude Angel will be working on UTM deconfliction topics and BT will work directly with drone providers on the team - Skyfarer Limited and HeroTech8. This project will help to promote the natural synergy between telecommunications and UTM.

BT is also a founding member of the UKRI Future Aviation Industry Working Group on Airspace Integration (FAIWG:AI), which will look at integrating the following vehicles into the UK airspace: uncrewed aircraft systems and drones, advanced air mobility (AAM) such as electric vertical take-off and landings and hybrid and electrical regional aircraft.

Additionally, there has been a lot of recent ‘drone’ statements from different regulators in the UK, which appear to signal good support for forward momentum on this topic. If you haven’t seen these announcements, below is a list worth checking:

  • Ofcom paper - Spectrum for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)
  • UK Government ambition statement and vision - Advancing airborne autonomy Commercial drones saving money and saving lives in the UK
  • PWC – Skies without limits 2.0 supports the UK vision