It’s been a whirlwind year so far for us at Skyward.

Even in today’s uncertainty, it’s exciting to look to the future. Right now, drones are being used for timely disaster response and emergency operation support, within regulatory limits. Someday, Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network might power lifesaving search and rescue drones with long range and high efficiency. These possibilities are getting closer every day as Verizon builds out its 5G network across the nation. But to get there, we need to ensure tomorrow’s network is capable of supporting the connected aviation of the future.

As a member of Skyward’s Aviation Network Technology team, I’m helping develop the standards and technologies needed to connect aircraft in the sky to the nation’s #1 wireless network. This kind of aerial connectivity will enable drone technology to take massive leaps forward.

Here’s a peek at what Skyward sees in the future for connected drones.

Today: Skyward is ready for Airborne LTE Operations

Skyward and Verizon are ready for connected drone operations today. Together with the Verizon team, we developed a new internet of things (IoT) service plan for aerial devices — we call it Airborne LTE Operations, or ALO. ALO enables drones and other aircraft such as helicopters, to send command-and-control and payload data over Verizon’s 4G LTE network.

Today there are no off-the-shelf, commercially available LTE connected drones available in the market, but that will not be the case for long. Verizon is ready. We are working with manufacturers to advance connected drones for proprietary and broad market applications every day! And the Skyward team is ready to support them every step of the way.

And that’s not all: Skyward customer Southern Company is one of several companies who have already conducted test operations of a connected drone powered by Verizon’s network. That’s just one of the flights beyond visual line of sight over 4G LTE Skyward has been involved in.

Tomorrow: Connected drones on Verizon’s 4G LTE network

Why are we so passionate about connecting drones to the wireless network? Because doing so will enable long-distance drone flights. When technology and regulations enable flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), it will kick open the door to a huge number of drone operations: transmission line inspections, assessment of miles of railroad tracks, various types of deliveries, and use cases we can’t even imagine yet.

Today, BVLOS flights require a Part 107 waiver from the FAA. Getting a waiver for BVLOS flights used to be nearly impossible. The FAA didn’t feel the technology or regulations were enough to ensure safety throughout a long-distance flight. Now, this Part 107 waiver is becoming more achievable. As of this article’s publishing time, the FAA has approved 52 BVLOS operations, 23 of which were issued in 2019 — a 210% increase over the previous year! Getting the waiver still isn’t easy, but it’s possible.

We think that in the near future we’ll see many industries utilize drones flying BVLOS. For one thing, the FAA is developing regulations like Remote Identification of UAS to pave the way. One of the FAA’s stated goals for Remote ID is to “lay the foundation for more complex operations, such as those beyond visual line of sight at low altitudes.” At Skyward, we look forward to the exciting use cases that will be enabled when a drone’s flight range is decided only by the endurance of its battery and needs of the operation.

The future: Unlocking the power of 5G

Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband is a groundbreaking technology. Compared to today’s 4G networks, 5G Ultra Wideband is 25 times faster. That kind of speed enables streaming of 4K video from drone to office, rapid assessment of disaster areas, and AI analytics performed in near real time.

As we’ve said before, the power of 5G includes:

  • Low latency, allowing control of aircraft from miles away in near real time
  • Rapid data transfer, enabling live transmission of high volumes of data
  • Near real-time analytics during flight with edge computing
  • Up to a million connected devices per square kilometer
  • High reliability on the ground and in the air

5G will supercharge the use cases that are already possible over 4G. Here are a few ways the power of 5G might boost connected drones in the field:

    • Remote aircraft deployments – a pilot can launch a drone, fly a mission, gather and transmit data, process and interact with the deliverables in near real time — all without ever leaving the office.
    • Simultaneous control of multiple drones – one person can deploy a whole fleet of aircraft for a mission while technologies leveraging ultra low latency 5G wireless service ensure they can detect and avoid one another in flight.
    • Fully autonomous drones operations – 5G may further expand the level of autonomy of the drone by placing more data intensive capabilities on the wireless link, removing this overhead from the drone. This extends the utility of the drone by reducing the power required to collect, process and act on important data. This may further reduce the cost, weight and complexity of the drone.
    • Better analytics through Artificial Intelligence (AI) – 5G connected drones may be able to rapidly collect and process large amounts of data to build deliverables like orthomosaic maps in near real time.
    • New capabilities through the Internet of Things (IoT) – drones can work in collaboration with millions of other 5G-connected devices to leverage data for brand new use cases.

Want to learn more about drones and connectivity?

Download our guide, The Near Future of Connected Drones: Strategic Planning for Enterprises.

Skyward The Near Future Of Connected Drones eBook