AT&T and Uber are working on LTE -- and eventually 5G -- connectivity for vertical take-off and landing taxis (eVTOLs) and cargo drones.
The multi-stage deal was announced at Uber's yearly Elevate Summit in Washington, DC, on Tuesday.
AT&T is already working with Uber to test drone delivery in San Diego. Its networks will also be used to support the launch of Uber Copter, a high-end helicopter service that's launching in New York City in July.
"We’re in the very earliest stages of seeing what 5G can do to augment next-generation air travel, but we're excited for the possibilities," said Andre Fuetsch, president and chief technology officer of AT&T Labs, in a statement. "Ridesharing services were one of the defining mobile applications of the 4G era. Air taxis and other new air vehicles could well eventually become a signature use case for 5G."
Uber describes the air transport project as "building the future of aerial ridesharing." In 2023, Uber plans to give riders the option of an affordable shared flight, the company says in a statement.
The first phase of the deal will last a year or more. AT&T and Uber will initially assess and allow 4G and 5G connectivity for piloted aircraft and autonomous cargo drones operating in low-altitude airspace.
Future phases may include more advanced projects such as edge computing and network slicing. These technologies would help further enable dedicated and reliable connectivity for air taxis and drones.
Uber plans to demonstrate its vertical take-off taxis in 2020. It plans to launch the service in Dallas, Los Angeles, and Melbourne, Australia in 2023.
See the video below for a preview of the service.
AT&T has so far launched 5G in limited areas of 19 US cities using millimeter-wave spectrum. More relevantly for air transportation needs, AT&T intends to launch "sub 6GHz" 5G in the US in 2020, probably using 700MHz frequencies. This will make longer range connections much more viable.
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— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading