Public safety applications among early use of 5G sUAVs

Public safety agencies in big markets have started to deploy mobile broadband communication networks to replace their existing narrowband technology, such as FirstNet in the United States and the Emergency Services Network in the United Kingdom.

The transition to 5G New Radio will unlock a myriad of civil use cases for small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (sUAVs), said ABI Research.

As compared to a few years ago, sUAVs have been widely deployed in various public safety applications. This includes asset surveillance and monitoring, traffic management, crowd surveillance, and control, as well as search and rescue.

However, all these applications are performed using remote control and within visual line of sight. Existing communication technologies, such as LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and unlicensed spectrum, all have their limitations and restrictions.

“The biggest strengths of 5G are high throughput and low latency,” said Lian Jye Su, a principal analyst at ABI Research. “The high throughput enables the seamless transmission of high-resolution images and videos that are critical for search and rescue missions. Low latency, on the other hand, allows sUAVs to be controlled by a centralized command and control in beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight. Path and route information, sensor information, geospatial, and telemetry data can be exchanged with the command and control almost instantaneously.”

With the increasing number of sUAVs sharing the airspace, public safety agencies will need UAV Traffic Management (UTM) system to control and manage national airspace. Each sUAV that is connected to the network will have a unique identifier which allows tracking and tracing across all kinds of terrains and environments. This will help public safety agencies track down rogue sUAVs and preserve the safety and security of the airspace.

In addition, 5G also enhances existing geo-positioning technology. Currently, satellite communications such as GPS and GLONASS are used for sUAV tracking, but satellite signals face a canyoning effect in dense urban landscapes and are subjected to interruption by buildings and natural landscapes. In indoor environments, sUAVs rely on optical flow and ultrasonic sensors for positioning and navigation, but this system is limited to the hardware available on the sUAVs. Cellular technology can augment satellite by using a radio fingerprinting technique, which matches cellular signal measurements against a central calibrated database and does not require an extra device or upgrade to the public safety network.

“The mission critical nature of public safety use cases demands a high level of reliability, scalability, and redundancy. Despite still being in the early stage of deployment, 5G has strong potential to solve the pain-points of public safety use cases. The telecommunications industry will start to roll out 5G equipment and devices in 2019 and it is just a matter of time before we start to see 5G sUAVs being deployed by public safety agencies,” concluded Su.



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