At this year's MWC Shanghai, 5G connected drones remained a primary focus for exhibitions.

July 29, 2019

5 Min Read
China Mobile's Su Yu: 5G Drones Unleashing Huge Value

At this year's MWC Shanghai, 5G connected drones remained a primary focus for exhibitions. This year's exhibitions showed the industry's unprecedented exploration in the application of 5G drones in multiple industries, including emergency response, firefighting, agriculture, forestry, remote sensing and urban management.

At the 5G is ON summit on June 25, Su Yu, Vice President of China Mobile (Chengdu) Industrial Research Institute, shared the institute's research and insights into the 5G drone industry. "Based on 5G technology, we have made many attempts to apply drones in different vertical industries," said Mr. Su.

During the event, China Mobile (Chengdu) Industrial Research Institute's project on 5G drones providing air-to-ground grid firefighting support received the Mobile Internet Innovation Pioneer Award – Smart City Pioneer presented by China Media Group's Shanghai Bureau and the CCTV Financial Channel.

Figure 1: Su Yu, Vice President, China Mobile (Chengdu) Industrial Research Institute

Good testing results under continuous 5G coverage
To promote 5G applications in different industries, China Mobile established three industrial research institutes targeting vertical industries last year. The Chengdu Industrial Research Institute was built in September 2018. According to Mr. Su, the institute serves as the innovation center of China Mobile, focusing on providing 5G-based applications and solutions for customers from healthcare, education, drone, agriculture, and other industries. The institute will have 2,000 staff members by 2020.

When asked how drones are combined with 5G, Mr. Su said the answer was by using 5G radio frequency signals. This March, China Mobile implemented the world's first large-scale, multi-site signal control of drones under continuous 5G coverage. "Drones can be controlled by 5G to transmit high-definition images in real time," said Mr. Su.

This test verified that drones can be controlled by 5G radio frequency signals and fly in the sky with 5G network coverage. Statistics show that 5G has reached the same level of performance as 4G and will be able to meet more future needs for drones.

Many people have wondered if 5G would be able to offer complete drone controls in the air. Mr. Su answered that it's impossible for telecom operators to deploy two separate 5G networks for drones -- one for high altitudes, and the other for lower altitudes -- because this would cost a lot.

Testing data shows that for flying at less than 300 meters, operators can use ground-based 5G radio frequency signals to control drones. That means networks on the ground can be used to control lower flying drones without needing to deploy an additional 5G network.

However, ground-based 5G networks can hardly reach altitudes above 300 meters, where the industry will need a dedicated 5G networks for video transmission by drones. For altitudes between 1,000 and 6,000 meters, the industry will need satellite communications to control drones.

"When it comes to the use of drones at lower altitudes, 5G is the best and most optimal technology," said Mr. Su. "China Mobile has confidence in 5G's value and capacity in terms of low-altitude drone controls."

More market value of 5G drones to be explored
During this year's MWC Shanghai, many companies showcased future applications of 5G drones in vertical industries. According to Mr. Su, 5G drones can be applied in multiple industries and create huge market value.

In the logistics and transportation industry, for example, there are about 50.7 billion parcels delivered every year in China, and nearly 80% of them weigh less than 2.27 kilograms. That means 30% of these parcels can be delivered by small 5G drones.

5G can also find extensive applications in agriculture and forestry, and could have a market presence worth CNY30 billion in aerial photography. Likewise, China's power transmission lines span more than 1.59 million kilometers, and powerline inspections by 5G drones would add CNY5.845 billion to the industry.

As 5G drones continue to develop, they will still need to rely on multiple key elements in addition to low-altitude 5G coverage. These elements include security platforms, operating platforms and terminal modules.

Mr. Su believes that the operating platform of 5G drones has to deliver three major functions: traditional air traffic control; application services for vertical industries; and value-added services for enterprise customers and consumers, such as e-commerce platforms and training and certification.

So far, China Mobile has identified over 30 scenarios for 5G drone application and has deployed 5G in four of these scenarios and has already provided services to its customers.

Some of the scenarios are firefighting in high rise buildings and emergency communications. In the emergency communications scenario, China Mobile used large 5G drones equipped with wireless base stations to provide emergency communications to the disaster area and to the ground. These 5G drones were all equipped with wireless base stations provided by Huawei and others.

In recent disaster relief efforts in Sichuan, China Mobile used 5G drones to record data before and after the earthquake, and assessed the impact of the earthquake based on this data to guide their next step.

Failure comes alongside success as we explore new things. According to Mr. Su, China Mobile has explored many use cases of 5G drones and has achieved some results. Their exploration has been two-sided facing both opportunities and challenges. "We will continue to explore through trial and error, and solve these challenges," said Mr. Su. "Our goal is to explore the huge market opportunities brought by 5G connected drones."

This blog is sponsored by Huawei.

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