Mobile operator Vodafone has carried out the first ever UK drone delivery running over a 4G mobile network on the south coast of England, flying Christmas treats to volunteers working at the Portland Bill Coastwatch station near Weymouth.
Drones are more usually controlled in the same manner as a traditional remote-controlled aircraft, using radio links and keeping the drone within sight of the operator at all times. However, Vodafone wanted to demonstrate the strength and breadth of its 4G network, as well as to show how using 4G to control drones means they can be remotely flown and monitored in real time.
“Technology plays an increasingly important role in connecting people and businesses over Christmas. Flying a drone over 4G for the first time gives us a glimpse into the future; 4G- or 5G-enabled drones will be used in a range of sectors, from agriculture and retail to construction and energy,” said Vodafone Business enterprise director, Anne Sheehan.
The adapted drone, which was carrying a portable 4G router to connect to the network, was also dressed up as a sleigh for the occasion.
Vodafone said that in the future, drone deliveries controlled over mobile networks could be used to drop vital supplies into hard-to-reach locations, while the capabilities of future 5G networks – notably low latency and capacity – would open up opportunities to mobile network-powered drones in urban areas.
According to a PwC report released earlier in 2018, 76,000 drones could be in UK skies by 2030, creating over 600,000 jobs.
Successful drone adoption in enterprise environments could help automate repetitive workplace processes, letting staff focus on higher-value work, and may add up to £42bn to the UK’s GDP.
Besides drone deliveries, Vodafone is working on a number of related projects, including using drones in air traffic control and preventing unauthorised use of drones around sensitive locations such as airports, hospitals or prisons.
Other network owners have also been pressing drones into service, with Openreach recently using a drone to fly fibreoptic cable across a river in the Highlands of Scotland, connecting isolated homes on the opposite bank to full-fibre broadband for the first time.
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