Telstra sets its sights on UAVs

Telstra has been working on a wide range of use cases for UAVs (also known as drones) and has been working with law enforcement agencies, humanitarian aid, post-disaster, first responders and city councils for some time to help incorporate UAVs into their strategies.

“Telstra Labs recognises the role that telcos can play via their mobile network, ranging from IoT (drone registration, activation and identification), through to 5G (super low latency remote command and control and hi-res video carriage),” says Håkan Eriksson, Chief Technology Officer at Telstra.

Eriksson says the aim is to provide potential models to airspace regulators and operators, such as Civil Aviation Safety Authority & Air Services Australia, that illustrate how Telstra could help manage UAVs, and keep the airspace safe between UAVs and other general aviation. He says this will unlock greater uptake of beyond-visual-line-of-sight flying, which will trigger additional commercial opportunities for UAVs across several industries. “Key requirements will be underpinned and accelerated using mobile networks (4G/5G) wide coverage, rather than short range wireless solutions,” he commented.

As part of this initiative, Telstra has chosen TEOCO’s AirborneRF solution to assess the readiness of its radio access network for future UAV applications, including communications, navigation, surveillance, safety and identity.

AirborneRF has already been deployed by several tier one operators, with Swisscom recently announcing it too had selected the firm’s solution. (see Swisscom works with TEOCO and ENKOM to optimise network for UAV). Telstra will be using it to develop a platform that enables a multitude of mission-critical services that are vital in supporting successful UAV operations, including assuring and managing mission-critical connectivity for traffic management and control for UAVs in the lower airspace. The solution will link cellular networks and aviation systems – such as air traffic management (ATM), unmanned traffic management (UTM) and flight information management systems (FIMS) – supporting a safe, equitable, secure and reliable urban air space platform.

This has become even more important to Telstra following Uber’s decision in 2019 to use Melbourne as one of three pilot cities to test out its ‘flying taxis’, with the pilot expected to begin this year and commercial operations planned for 2023.

“Commercial UAVs present a huge opportunity for telco operators, but only if the supporting mobile networks deliver the required connectivity to keep them airborne,” said Thomas Neubauer, VP Business Development at TEOCO. “Mobile networks were not designed to meet the needs of the aviation industry, so tight focus is needed to guarantee the quality of service needed to safeguard the additional revenue that connected skies promise.”