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The Benefits of 5G Connectivity For the Drone Industry

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The Benefits of 5G Connectivity For the Drone Industry

February 10, 2021

The Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were not the only competitors facing off at the Super Bowl on Sunday, February 7, 2021. Verizon and T-Mobile went head to head with humorous commercials pumping up a promise of better connectivity through a 5G network. Verizon’s commercial promised connections that would keep gamers playing to the best of their availability while T-Mobile promised no lags in phone calls, both because of faster smoother connections. An example of how fast 5G networks will work can be seen with how data is downloaded to a mobile device. With the current 4G network availability downloading a 90 minute video could take up to 4 minutes. With 5G, that same video will only take 10 seconds to fully download. 5G connectivity will go far beyond fast downloads and uninterrupted calls and games. As Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said, 5G will change everything for the world of IOT (Internet Of Things).

Hans was the keynote speaker at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show held in the Las Vegas Convention Center, NV. His entire hour long presentation was about how 5G was set to change the world of connectivity. One thing that was made clear during his speech is that Verizon plans to use 5G for more than just cellular communications. Hans invited several other Verizon partners to the stage to discuss how 5G would benefit their industries and customers. These guest speakers included New York Times CEO Mark Thompson, Walt Disney Studios CTO Jamie Voris, and Medivis Co-Founder Christopher Morley. But one of the most memorable guests that Hans called onto the stage was Mariah Scott, President of Skyward.

Based out of Portland, OR, Skyward was founded in 2012 to empower commercial drone users to reach their fullest potential. They create the software needed for drone operators to safely and efficiently plan and execute missions in the fields of construction and engineering, energy and utilities, oil, gas, and mining, media, public safety, and insurance. In 2017, Verizon acquired Skyward merging the growing need for drone operations with the nation’s broadest connectivity platform. During her presentation, Mariah highlighted how 5G will bring drone operations to the next level.

Mariah shared a video featuring how one of Skyward’s customers, Southern Company, relies on drones for daily operations. Southern Company is a power and utility company based out of Atlanta, GA. They provide power for more than 9 million customers over a 120,000 square mile territory. This territory is made up of more than 27,000 miles of distribution lines. As Mariah revealed, stretched out that would be a few thousand miles more than the circumference of the Earth. The distribution lines, transmitter towers, and power stations need to be constantly observed for maintenance to prevent power disruption. Also, as a company in the south, power is often disturbed because of hurricanes. Southern Company can cover its entire territory with a collection of 83 drones and more than 60 trained and licensed pilots.

The drones that Southern Company uses, with the software provided by Skyward, help them identify any faults in structures or lines. The drones can be used to scout overgrown vegetation that can interfere with powerlines. In the wake of storms, the drones can quickly locate downed lines. They can even be used to carry lines up poles to be reconnected. Before drones, maintaining all utility assets were not only time consuming and costly, but extremely dangerous. And as Southern Company UAS pilot Corey Hitchcock said, “You can’t place a price on a life. If we can keep one person alive with the UAS, it makes it all worth it.” Mariah went on to say that with a drone, Corey’s job can be done safely and efficiently, but it is still a manual operation. Corey needs to be on site flying the drone, keeping it in line of sight at all times.

With 5G, this will all change. “That’s because 5G offers low latency, high bandwidth, and security,” Mariah said. “The foundational elements required for autonomous flights. When drone flights are connected to the Verizon Network, we will have digital access to the physical world at scale. Corey will be able to deploy hundreds or even thousands of drones to inspect Southern’s 27,000 miles of transmission lines. And receive real-time reports, as often as necessary.” With Verizon enabled 5G, drones could be operated from anywhere in the world. Skyward provides the software to program an autonomous flight. The software also ensures a seamless safe flight allowing the drones to sense and avoid any obstacles. These obstacles could be buildings, structures, vegetation, manned or unmanned aircraft. To demonstrate Mariah brought Hans back out on the stage with a tablet and instructed him to simply press a button and launch a drone into flight nearly 300 miles away in Los Angeles.

On the LA street corner stood remote pilot Tariq who has been busy testing 5G capabilities. Tariq had no involvement in the flight of the drone, he was simply there to observe and gather data on the 5G connection. Hans launched the drone back in Las Vegas, while Skyward’s software managed the flight and landing. While there was a slight lag between when Hans launched the drone and it actually lifted off, the performance speed test showed that the 5G network was operating at 900 megabits per second.

Between Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T many regions of the United States are prepared to start utilizing 5G connectivity. This ultra-wideband low latency technology will be bringing the IOT into the future. For drone technology, this means finally clearing the hurdles that have limited drones from reaching their maximum potential. As Mariah pointed out, having Hans fly a drone in LA from Las Vegas was pretty cool, but the true beauty behind 5G is much greater than that. “The ability to gather data and analyze it in real-time is what will really change the way business gets done. This is the promise of 5G,” she said. “Verizon’s investment in 5G makes it possible to take to the sky with that same network intelligence we trust on the ground. Connecting us to each other and transforming the way we see the world.”

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