5G can let drones fly further – Economics

– There is a rule of thumb for drones: you can only fly them as far as you can see them. But why exactly? 5G mobile communication can expand the field of view to some extent.

Forefinger forward, upward gesture, then tapping the finger on the palm: looks weird as Vodafone developer Mohamed Azzahhafi stands outside in the test center in Aldenhoven near Aachen (NRW) and strolls back and forth. emotional. Not far from him, you can see the reason for the gesture in the air: the drone. The 29-year-old wears “Hololens” glasses that allow the user to look at the digital screen. The pilot controls a five-kilogram drone with finger movements and a Hololens that recognizes movements as commands. There is no controller.

Gesture control is intended to simplify the operation of the drone, also because the necessary movements are easier to learn and more intuitive than operating the controller. The digital field that Azzahhafi sees in front of him thanks to HoloLens has its advantages. This way, it can instantly locate the drone on the map. Even if the drone disappears in the cloud, it knows exactly where it is. Thanks to 5G, the field of view of the remote control is to some extent digitally expanded.

The fact that this futuristic design has been going well so far is also due to the nearby cell phone mast. It transmits signals in the 5G radio standard. “There is real-time communication between the drone and the pilot, which enables safe control even from a distance,” says Azzahhafi. This would not be possible with the previous 4G standard and WLAN signals to which many drones are connected.

Strict rules for out-of-sight flights

Until now, privately controlled drones could usually only fly in sight. This means that the pilot must be able to see the missile from the ground. The advantages of 5G should now be a strong argument in favor of changing the rules and the possibility of extending the range. According to Vodafone, the pilot is always well informed due to the mobile phone standard. “An almost unlimited flight would be possible, but not allowed,” says developer Azzahhafi.

Flights beyond the line of sight are already possible under certain conditions. However, this requires a risk assessment and an operating permit, and the regulations are strict. Which is understandable given the security issues.

A big step towards the increased use of drones may take place in 2023 based on EU regulations. Then drone airspaces could be defined where unmanned air traffic would also be easier to guide out of sight. In such airspaces, the positions of all road users would be recorded and exchanged with each other. The 5G network can also be important for this. To some extent, the cellular radiotelephony standard should be the key to significantly expand the possible applications of drones.

A trouble-free connection must be guaranteed

Achim Friedl of the UAV DACH is cautious. “5G has huge advantages, but there are still some questions to be answered about commercial use in drone flights.” At higher altitudes, the radio signal weakens – the airspace is not sufficiently ‘illuminated’ everywhere. He emphasizes: “A trouble-free connection to the mobile phone must be guaranteed so that the pilot can always control and, for example, avoid collisions with another flying object.” Official authorizations for commercial air operations would only be issued after this guarantee for the intended area of ​​flight is demonstrated.

Vodafone’s competitors have also noticed the potential of 5G. According to Telefónica Deutschland, 5G-controlled drones can be used to implement new applications in the industrial sector and optimize processes for business customers. “Difficult access to outdoor facilities such as utility poles, bridges, power plants or ports can be monitored even faster and more efficiently with 5G guided drones and our o2 5G network,” says Technology Director Mallik Rao.

Until now, 5G has played a role in drone operations, especially in so-called campus networks. These are separated areas where a company or other organization is digitally protected and has very strong connections. In the port of Hamburg, drones are in motion on Telekom’s 5G campus network. And industrial companies use drones in their factories for support functions.

Traffic management is designed to prevent collisions

The example of Vodafone from Aldenhoven now shows that more is possible outside of campus networks. 5G drone flights can also help in the event of floods or forest fires, Vodafone praises further advantages for uploading recordings during the flight. One catch is that not all corners of Germany have 5G reception. But the expansion is in full swing.

Ralph Schepp, managing director at Droniq, is also thinking about 5G. The company offers, among other things, a traffic management system that shows drone pilots in real time the positions of other missiles and is designed to prevent collisions. The company, almost half of which belongs to Telekom, uses the Bonn group’s mobile network – partly 4G, partly 5G.

Schepp explains that the 4G mobile communication standard is still sufficient for some applications such as digital drone location. “But when it comes to real-time connectivity and transferring more data simultaneously, you need 5G.” As an example, he cites bridge inspections or gas pipeline control flights – thanks to 5G, the recordings of them could be sent and assessed during the flight. “Enormous bandwidth is required, which is not a problem for 5G.”

Christian Müller of the European Helicopter Association calls the 5G potential for drones “huge” – the radio standard has “the potential to allow all airspace participants to have additional capabilities.” He also has subtle concerns, however, and highlights the “impact of 5G waves on some instruments in civil aviation”. This is a problem mainly in the USA, in Europe the frequency bands are sufficiently separated from each other. However, in the future it could also become a problem here “if the frequency bands are extended so that more data can be transferred”.

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