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5G

Amazon, Walmart start launching drones, but stay mum on 5G

Two of the biggest retailers in the US are moving forward with plans to deliver goods to Americans with flying robots.

But neither Amazon nor Walmart made any mention of the technologies – including 5G – they may be using in their efforts.

Specifically, Walmart said recently that it's expanding its "DroneUp" delivery network to 34 sites by the end of 2022, giving it the opportunity to reach 4 million US households across six states. "This provides us the ability to deliver over 1 million packages by drone in a year," according to the company.

Separately, Amazon said customers living in Lockeford, California, will become among the first to receive its Prime Air deliveries. "Lockeford residents will play an important role in defining the future. Their feedback about Prime Air, with drones delivering packages in their backyards, will help us create a service that will safely scale to meet the needs of customers everywhere," the company wrote.

However, neither company responded to questions from Light Reading about the wireless technology that might be included in their gadgets, including whether they were using 5G connections from an operator like T-Mobile or AT&T.

That's noteworthy considering drones have played a major role in the years of hype surrounding 5G. After all, the technology presumably boasts the speeds and range to keep the gadgets connected as they navigate dense urban areas.

The opportunity was considered so compelling that Verizon acquired a drone company in 2017, and by 2020 had hoped to carry 1 million drone flights on its 5G network. However, Verizon shuttered its Skyward drone business earlier this year.

Nonetheless, other companies continue to work toward the drone opportunity. For example, T-Mobile in 2020 inked an agreement with the Drone Racing League (DRL), the global, professional drone racing effort, to "advance 5G-powered drone technology." And Qualcomm in 2021 announced its Flight RB5 5G reference platform, describing it as "the world's first drone platform and reference design to offer both 5G and AI-capabilities."

To be clear, technologists generally continue to eye a future where drones are as commonplace as cars are today. Indeed, Dish Network's innovation chief, Chris Ergen, recently speculated that the company's new 5G network could eventually connect drone taxis. "That's coming," he said late last year.

Whether 5G stays in the mix though remains to be seen.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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