The Internet of the Skies: Establishing Public Trust in the Future of Cellular Drones

The GSMA is supporting the Global Unmanned Traffic Management Association (GUTMA) on Connected Skies, a major conference on drones and UTM, which will bring together the aviation and telecoms industry for the first time. The event will consider key technical concepts, aerial LTE coverage, 5G in aviation deployment road mapping and much more.

Register here using the promotional discount CONNSKIESGSMA19 (which entitles you to 50% discount).

What’s needed for us to move towards the future of drones? We need to ensure that drones are connected via cellular networks and we need to ensure collaboration between the aviation and telecom industries in order to secure public trust in drones.

At this year’s Mobile World Congress Barcelona, the GSMA seminar “The Internet of the Skies – Connecting Drones”, considered the vast array of use cases and enhanced regulatory landscape needed to win the public confidence, which is so crucial to their deployment. The seminar demonstrated that mobile operators are well positioned to support the growth of drones thanks to the infrastructure already in place which allows for the delivery of data between them, as well as the security mechanisms to ensure their reliability.

Telefonica presented an example on how drones can be used in several ways to monitor wild fire. In Spain alone, $1.8bn is spent per year putting out such fires. The role of the mobile network and cellular drones to control fires like these and mitigate the human, environmental and financial costs they create, requires the ubiquity of mobile networks.

So what are the principal assets that mobile networks can offer this burgeoning industry?  In three words: coverage, reliability and security. As Telefonica’s Global IoT Business Manager Luis Semelder pointed out, when drones are deployed for uses beyond visual line of sight, they will need cellular technology. “Mobile networks are unrivalled in the drones market,” Mr Semelder told the session; “there’s just no way that WiFi or Bluetooth can offer the same level of reliability.” Vital too will be the buy-in that comes from widespread trust.  As Intel’s VP for Next Generation Systems Mark Davis pointed out, “this is a pivotal two years for the drone sector”. Not only from the perspective of technological development, but in terms of public acceptance.  Drones are generally seen as a disruptive technology – which sounds great in some spaces, but perhaps less so in aviation, where safety is everything.

So how do we create public trust in this market? The answer lies in deepening collaboration between participating industries – chiefly telecoms and aviation – and the effective regulation that can yield. People need to feel safe with these technologies and, as was seen, calls to ban drones can quickly arise where they do not.  “How do people know that a drone they see in public is licensed to be there?” asked Verizon’s VP for Aviation Policy and Standards, Jonathan Evans. “It’s fundamentals like these that operators can help to underpin. And that’s an area where the mobile industry can really contribute – to provide a trust framework to check the Silicon Valley-style speed of innovation that’s taking place.”  There was enthusiastic agreement around the room both that regulation should be based on standardisation, and that if the technology is right, the regulation should be light. But it’s up to the industry to help that happen if we want to help governments avoid creating further barriers.

This conversation will continue at Connected Skies on 18-20 June in Portland. Book by 30 April to secure the early bird price of $150. Use the promotional code CONNSKIES19GSMA when purchasing your ticket. Register here.