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NI is part of a team looking to integrate drones into 5G wireless networks

It’s important to think about the drone applications you can build on top of 5G, says NI

The Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) program earlier this week announced the first contributing equipment partners to the Aerial Experimentation and Research Platform for Advanced Wireless (AERPAW) testbed, which explores the integration of drones into wireless communications networks. One of those partners, NI — formerly National Instruments — will be supporting the project with the company’s software defined radios for experimentation and spectrum compliance monitoring.

Sarah Yost, NI’s senior business development manager, provided more background on the project, telling RCR Wireless News that there are number of applications that would greatly benefit from incorporating drones into our cellular networks.

“If you think about drones today,” she said, “they’re usually controlled with a remote control and they might have some sort of data connection back to the operator, but it might be done over various different communication protocols and it’s done externally to our wireless networks.”

The project not only examines how to integrate drones into a network, but also how to make sure they’re not interfering with anything else we’re doing on that network.

“You don’t want a drone to be flying and make it so that you can’t make a call on your cellphone,” she reasoned.

Another critical component of the project, according to Yost, is thinking about the applications you can build on top of 5G, pointing out that public safety is perhaps one of the most obvious areas that could benefit.

“Another project that we are working on is a European-funded testbed, and they’re looking to use the fact that 5G has some new architectures and rather than have say, a firetruck, depend on the wireless network based off a permanent base station, you instead use a base station that actually lives on the firetruck, so when you go out to an area that doesn’t have great cellular coverage, you can still control the drone over the wireless network and it can do aerial surveillance of the situation,” she said.

Yost also mentioned a number of other areas in which drone applications might be used such as security, particularly in airports and military defense applications. Even now, drones are used in such applications, and for example, can act as jammers to stop unwelcome incoming aircrafts.

“Drones could also be a really interesting way to bring connectivity infrastructure to high traffic areas,” she continued, “think a concert or a sporting event. In this case, the drone can come in a help route and handle the additional traffic.”

This type of temporary capacity boost would also be useful after a natural disaster or some other kind of emergency in which network infrastructure has been damaged and cellular signal is needed.

The AERPAW platform is just one of four test beds in the PAWR program. The two other live testbeds are: POWDER in Salt Lake City, which is focused on software-defined networking and massive MIMO research; and COSMOS in the West Harlem neighborhood of New York City, targeting programmable networks and innovation in optical backhaul.

The fourth wireless testbed is focused on rural broadband and will be named by early 2021.

Additional PAWR partners include AT&T, providing data backhaul support; CommScope, providing wireless antennas and fixed node enclosures; Facebook Connectivity providing Terragraph nodes supporting millimeter wave communications; and Keysight Technologies, providing network test equipment including a channel emulator and RF sensors.

In June, Samsung demonstrated its own drone solution on the company’s campus. The drone-based antenna configuration measurement solution for 4G and 5G networks is aimed at simplifying network management, while also improving employee safety and optimizing network performance.

And more recently, at the beginning of the month, Sky Drone and China Mobile Hong Kong (CMHK) signed a memorandum of understanding with the aim of fostering 5G connectivity of drones as part of the work of China Mobile’s 5G innovation center.


Catherine Sbeglia
Catherine is a Technology Editor for RCR Wireless News, Enterprise IoT Insights, and In-Building Technology. Before joining Arden Media, she served as an Associate Editor in Advantage Business Marketing's Manufacturing and Research & Development Groups. She studied English and Film & Media Studies at The University of Rochester. She currently lives in Madison, WI. Having already lived on both coasts, she thought she’d give the middle a try. So far, she likes it very much.

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