Thursday June 8, 2023

Action needed within next year for UK to catch up in drone economy race, new report shows

BT Group and GSMA Intelligence lay out guidance for UK Government and regulators to transform the drone economy, as UK lands mid-table in new global study of international drone readiness 

London, 8th June 2023 – Mobile industry insights, forecast and research specialist GSMA Intelligence has today launched a new report revealing that the UK is falling behind other global players in the race for drone innovation. The report, commissioned by BT Group, outlines how the UK must learn from international peers and lays out recommendations which could help guarantee the UK is a leader in the drone economy if acted on within the next year.

The research, supported by BT Group, found that many of the UK’s international partners, including Japan, Switzerland, France, Germany and Italy have seen their drone ecosystems develop faster due to established regulatory systems and infrastructure. The UK currently sits at the middle ‘drone readiness’ index, with Switzerland taking the leading position and the US the bottom of the table reflecting slower progress in drone regulatory rules.

With drones potentially contributing £45 billion to the UK economy and supporting 650,000 jobs by 2030, following the report’s recommendations has transformative potential for both the public and private sector.

A separate poll for BT Group* found that 75% of consumers believe that it is essential for drones to be used for public service delivery, and two thirds agreeing that drones could have a positive impact on their lives. In this context, the UK now has a window of as little as 12 months to facilitate greater investment and technological development, or risk falling behind.

To increase drone readiness in the UK and win the race to the top, the report outlines four key recommendations for the UK government, the UK aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and other relevant agencies:

  • Facilitating permissions for safe, remotely piloted drone flights at scale: Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone capability underpins a successful drone industry and its applications. Although the UK has a BVLOS policy, it was found to be confusing and unclear among the raft of companies and startups testing or seeking deployment of their services at scale. The implementation guidelines need to be simplified and modernised. And a supporting regulatory framework that includes Unmanned Aircraft Traffic System Management (UTM), safety standards and training – must be a priority.
  • Enforce pro-innovation regulations and a pro-growth regulatory culture: The (CAA)must formulate workable regulations that promote investment in a timely manner, while ensuring safe operations and delivering public confidence in the industry.
  • Extend the Future Flight Challenge: The UK has many innovative companies in the drone sector that need a say in regulatory development. The flagship Future Flight Challenge, which the government has funded, has been a clear help and stimulus to private sector innovation and so this, or a related scheme, should be extended.
  • Act now: The UK has a window that is as narrow as 12 months to set the regulations and guidance that will help the sector thrive. The study found that many advanced economies expect drone regulations to be in place by 2024–2025, a date that the UK must also meet to remain competitive in developing home-grown technology for domestic use and in export markets.

BT Group’s research also reveals that there is strong consumer demand for drone capabilities from a wide range of industries such as utilities, public services, manufacturing, last-mile logistics and distribution, conservation and land/forestry management, film and TV sectors.

BT Group’s startup incubation hub, Etc., has already made significant steps in unlocking the potential of drones. Earlier this year, Etc. announced a landmark partnership with UTM specialist Altitude Angel, a partnership that will help enable Etc. to become a one-stop shop for UK drone enablement capabilities. Actioning the report’s recommendations could play a key role in bringing to market further opportunities that drone technology has to offer the public and private sector – from supporting the police to rapid transport of blood samples and delivery of items cheaper and faster than ever before.

Dave Pankhurst, Director of Drones, Etc. at BT Group said, “Across the globe, the drone industry is being rapidly unlocked. Tapping into this can transform the world of business, the delivery of public services, and the prospects for the UK economy. 

“BT Group is leading from the front. Our mobile network, as the largest and most reliable in the UK, could be critical. From improving flight control; assisting with authentication and authorisation; facilitating data transmission; and enabling cellular communication, 4G and 5G technology can be the backbone of the industry.

“At Etc., we have reached some significant landmarks already, but with these new recommendations, we hope to rally the support of the government and industry regulators for the UK drone industry to reach its full potential.”

Tim Hatt, Head of Consulting, GSMA Intelligence, adds “There is no question drones will be a key part of successful digital economies. The technology side of development is happening at pace across the board. The issue now is having regulatory systems that enable commercial expansion at scale. The challenge for the UK is that, despite huge progress in drone development, regulation has not kept pace and the country therefore scores only 62 out of 100 on overall market readiness, placing it behind European peers and others such as Japan. 

“This need not be the case. Beyond the hive of activity happening in the drone sector, UK mobile network infrastructure and service development are advancing; 4G and 5G mobile coverage now reach 99% and 63% of the population respectively. Taking action on these recommendations would go a long way to helping the government’s ambitions to make the UK a technological leader in the 5G era, providing a boost to GDP, jobs and international competitiveness”.




*The consumer research was conducted using Yonder’s online omnibus among a nationally representative sample of 2,092 UK adults between 29 and 30 March 2023.


Notes to Editors

As the start-up incubation team within BT Group’s Digital unit, Etc. is boosting the businesses of the future and driving solutions in existing and emerging categories including drones, healthtech, fintech and beyond.


About BT Group

BT Group is the UK’s leading provider of fixed and mobile telecommunications and related secure digital products, solutions and services. We also provide managed telecommunications, security and network and IT infrastructure services to customers across 180 countries.

BT Group consists of three customer-facing units: Consumer serves individuals and families in the UK; Business* covers companies and public services in the UK and internationally; Openreach is an independently governed, wholly owned subsidiary wholesaling fixed access infrastructure services to its customers – over 650 communication providers across the UK.

British Telecommunications plc is a wholly owned subsidiary of BT Group plc and encompasses virtually all businesses and assets of the BT Group. BT Group plc is listed on the London Stock Exchange.

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*Business was formed on 1 January 2023 from the combination of the former Enterprise and Global units.  It commenced reporting as a single unit from 1 April 2023, with pro forma reporting information to be produced ahead of BT Group’s Q1 FY24 results.

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About GSMAIntelligence

GSMA Intelligence is the definitive source of global mobile operator data, analysis and forecasts, and publisher of authoritative industry reports and research. Our data covers every operator group, network and MVNO in every country worldwide – from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. It is the most accurate and complete set of industry metrics available, comprising tens of millions of individual data points, updated daily.

GSMA Intelligence is relied on by leading operators, vendors, regulators, financial institutions and third-party industry players, to support strategic decision-making and long-term investment planning. The data is used as an industry reference point and is frequently cited by the media and by the industry itself.

Our team of analysts and experts produce regular thought-leading research reports across a range of industry topics.

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Drone Readiness Index Methodology

To follow an evidence-based approach, GSMA Intelligence constructed an index that is split into two broad parts: one on regulatory status and the other on a range of market indicators that collectively assess economic strength, telecoms sector readiness, and enterprise demand (i.e. from companies and organisations most likely to use drones as part of their operations).

Each metric has been assigned a weighting factor, which corresponds to the relative level of importance a metric has on the overall index score; the higher the weight, the higher the importance. Weightings have been determined through a combination of research, data analysis and industry conversations about which indicators have the largest bearing on the drone market.


For more information, please contact:

Catrina Adams, External Communications Manager, Digital at BT Group

[email protected]

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article/press release are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the approved policy or position of the GSMA or its subsidiaries.

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