LONDON -- Huawei Wireless X Labs announced the "Digital Sky Initiative" today during the eighth Global Mobile Broadband Forum (Global MBBF). The purpose is to spur development of drone applications and enable the low airspace digitized economy via enhanced low airspace network coverage.
The burgeoning drone industry has been one of the most coveted technology topics for many years. Today, drones are playing a critical role in a diverse set of fields such as transportation, agriculture, infrastructure, rescue and relief, and entertainment. The birth of the Internet once brought computers to a new development stage. Likewise, connecting drones to networks is a pivotal step in unleashing their application potential. As the industry thrives, point-to-point communication between drones and remote-control platforms can no longer satisfy diverse demands. Innovative applications urgently require the connection among drones and the communication between drones and users. Drones that are connected to mobile communication networks can fly a better route, work more efficiently, and realize more rational airspace usage to deliver greater economic benefits.
"More and more activities that traditionally take place on the ground are now happening in the air,” remarked Zhou Yuefeng, CMO of Huawei’s Wireless Network Product Line. “Flying taxis for personal transportation will soon be a reality. The combination of drones and cellular networks will redefine the airspace, transforming the way we travel, shop, and create. However, all current base stations are designed to serve humans and objects on the ground. Low airspace drones are supported by reflected signals and side lobe coverage. As a result, drones presently face severe signal interference challenges. The current network can only support a limited number of drone applications where aircraft fly below 120 m." Network construction is the first step towards application innovation. The digital sky initiative aims to provide 300 m low airspace network coverage, and create an advanced test environment for drone applications. The initiative will also support non-line-of-sight (NLOS) flight control verification and large volume data transmission to enable the low airspace digitized economy,” Zhou explained.
The digital sky initiative consists of three steps. Step one (2017 and 2018) seeks to set up connected drone application demo sites and promotes standardization of cellular-network-based management. Step two (2019 and 2020) requires field tests and aims to achieve small-scale commercial use (deployment in over five countries). Step three (2020 onwards) is designed to bring low airspace digital networks into commercial use, and provide network coverage for at least 30% of low airspace. Huawei Wireless X Labs has also set up a Digital Sky Special Interest Group, gathering governments, operators, drone vendors, industry organizations, and other customers. In October 2017, the world’s first Digital Sky Hub was founded in Shanghai. It aims to encourage joint efforts to set up drone application demo sites. In 2018, hubs will be set up in Europe, Canada, Korea, and other locations around the world.
Guests at the MBBF watched the live video sent back by the drones. Commercial 4.5G networks can now support NLOS flight control, data transmission, and flight. The new generation of 5G networks featuring ultra-large bandwidth, extremely-low latency, high reliability, and wide coverage will provide drones with greater abilities. Intelligent traffic management in the air will become a reality while the newly created digital airspace is set to transform city life.