Mobile Industry Supports Gathering Momentum of Commercial Drones Market

July 10, 2018

Graham Trickey, Head of Internet of Things Programme, GSMA

Unmanned Aircraft, or ‘drones’, have hitherto been regarded as serving two typical purposes: military applications, and those of casual hobbyists.  The past year or so, however, has seen that perception start to change fundamentally. There has been insight provided into this blossoming market after it was forecast that the market for commercial drones will reach $17 billion by 2024.

High costs and technical limitations formerly held commercial applications back, as the technology behind drones developed and production volumes were low. Increasing interest and investment across sectors is helping to develop new use cases for commercial drones and further pushing down productions costs. From mid-2017 significant investment saw  use cases proliferate in sectors as various as agriculture, warehousing, construction and infrastructure. The global market for agricultural drones for instance reached $494 million last year, and is set to reach $3.69 billion by 2022.

Central to this has been the growing realisation that drones can be operated and controlled Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS). This has corresponded with increasing engagement from the mobile industry, which can play a vital role in providing mass connectivity for civilian, commercial and government applications. Last month saw the release of the GSMA’s Mobile-Enabled Unmanned Aircraft report, which explains that BVLOS applications require much more scalable, reliable and secure connectivity, such as that provided by mobile networks. The findings are clear: mobile networks offer the unrivalled communications capabilities and the ability to help with identification needed to deliver the full potential of drones.

The ubiquitous coverage of mobile networks allows them to relay high volumes of data to and from drones and – crucially – to do so in real time whilst the drone is still airborne. They can thereby facilitate much more complex and agile capabilities that can be controlled by remote pilots who can be responsible for many drones at the same time. Connectivity of this kind is an inherent advantage operators have to offer: their networks are already there, providing cost-efficient connectivity around the world, without requiring the roll out of new infrastructure

The inherently secure and reliable mobile networks have very good coverage across the globe and new networks like Mobile IoT extend coverage even further supporting the use of mobile communications for UTM. Use cases in areas such as fire services, emergency healthcare, critical infrastructure inspection  (of roads, bridges, railways, solar farms etc.) geosurveys and disaster response have already been deployed. The Mobile-Enabled Unmanned Aircraft report shows deployments for cellular drones in uses as various as wind turbines to media.

If the innovative deployments already being made are to benefit the world at large, mobile networks will need to be at the heart of their development. For more information on the mobile industry’s involvement in drones, please visit https://www.gsma.com/iot/drones/

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