5G drones - the future of critical communications

10 April 2024

In the wake of a disaster – be it natural or manmade – restoring communications is critical to relief and recovery efforts. While terrestrial technologies are often damaged or overloaded during such times, satellite has long proven a reliable (if pricey) alternative.

Today, a new option is on the horizon. High speed communications delivered by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones are under development across the world for application in disaster recovery, defence, government & military, utilities, agriculture, etc. The ‘drone in a box’ architecture features self-deploying drones that can be operated remotely, fulfilling their mission, before returning to the box to recharge.

One such company making great strides in this area is Nokia Drone Networks, which at the end of 2023, achieved the first FCC-certified 5G-connected drone-in-a-box solution with Rohde & Schwarz in North America. This represents a significant step in providing a proven, industrial-grade 4G/5G drone solution built for reliable Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations.

Highly resilient connectivity is critical to remote drone operation, real-time streaming of data collected during a drone mission, and BVLOS operation using a large set of 3GPP spectrum bands. Research and development efforts have pushed the boundaries in terms of RF design and connectivity performance. Innovative features such as full network connection redundancy, multi-operator support and hot failover also feature.

Nokia and Rohde & Schwarz originally joined forces in 2022 with an MoU to embed Rohde & Schwarz QualiPoc 4.9G/LTE and 5G network measurement capabilities into the Nokia Drone Networks platform. Extending the cooperation to device testing and certification, Nokia collaborated with Rohde & Schwarz to complete the FCC’s rigorous requirements for R&D component testing. The R&S CMX500 radio communication tester from Rohde & Schwarz was utilised in the Nokia Bell Labs Global Product and Compliance Laboratory for extensive radiated and conducted emissions testing.