Ericsson and TDC NET – enabling advanced automated drone applications

As the industry’s understanding of long-range and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone applications increases, so does commercial demand. Thankfully, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market is benefiting from the rapid and ongoing development of 5G technology, and an ecosystem of multiple companies is collaborating to overcome common challenges and break new ground.

Navigating the Future of Aviation

The aviation industry is undergoing a major transformation, driven by digital technology and the need for sustainability. Ericsson is at the forefront of this change driving 3GPP standardization beyond traditional mobile broadband to provide a comprehensive solution for the modern aviation industry.

Ericsson aims to be the leading provider of the key technologies, products, and services to make operators and enterprises succeed in monetizing the digital airspace. The intention is to focus on being able to lead the building of 3-dimensional (3D) high performance radio networks with predictable coverage and capabilities in the digital airspace.

Vonage, wholly owned subsidiary of Ericsson and a leading Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS) and aggregator of network APIs, is working together with mobile network operators and application service providers to drive the adoption of new network and communication capabilities exposed by 5G networks for the drone ecosystem. In near future, 5G enabled API’s like Location, Quality of Service on Demand, Security and other network- aware applications could be made available with a uniform experience that can be extended to drone adoption on a global scale.

Efforts have recently been boosted by joint work in the 5G Innovation Hub, an initiative involving TDC NET Denmark and Ericsson Drone Mobility.

Ericsson Drone Mobility (EDM), an innovation from Ericsson One, the internal accelerator at Ericsson, seeks to capitalise on 5G’s ability to enable enterprises to fly drones in a safer and more secure way, while also transmitting large amounts of data at high speed. As an added benefit, this will help the market move away from the convention of using SD cards to store and transfer data. Together with TDC NET and ecosystem partners, tests were undertaken leveraging telecom APIs that enabled possibilities such as long-distance remote control, advanced location tracking, high fidelity video transfer via a dedicated network slice, identification and route planning.

Network slicing aids remote control drone applications

To deliver both signalling and video, EDM tested an enterprise end to end SLA solution in TDC NET’s macro network, demonstrating how they can provide the consistent uplink bandwidth required for a stable drone control signal and a live video stream for surveillance. This solution was also able to provide observability of network slicing use for each drone, while enabling decisions on the required network coverage for drone operations, for example emergency landing.

EDM and TDC NET worked further on remote control functions for applications that require expert control of otherwise automated operations. Tests were conducted for remote control of a simulated BVLOS Drone flight through a 5G network with real-time camera surveillance and location tracking. These tests proved it is possible for remote pilots to request and take control of cellular-connected drones. They also successfully tested flights of remotely controlled drones from Denmark to Sweden.

Enhanced location and identity services

The tests also sought to demonstrate how cellular networks can be used as a secondary positioning system to enable position redundancy and network validation of the drone flight. This capability can be used to reduce flight risk, make it easier to retrieve flight permission, and enable validation of the drone location from a trusted source such as a telecom network.

EDM and TDC NET demonstrated precise drone positioning, including altitude, using RTK GNSS over a 5G standard, which can be used to enable accurate navigation and monitoring in 3D. Weekly test flights conducted with University of Southern Denmark demonstrated that RTK verification through the TDC NET network can provide an accurate position within 2cm, which is significantly better than the 10cm accuracy targeted by this technology. It’s also possible that 5G-network estimated location can be used to validate satellite positioning and can be trusted to provide location information when satellite positioning is not available.

Globally unique and convenient drone identifiers are becoming increasingly important, due to increased commercial demand for drones and forming regulation. EDM and TDC Net tested a network identifier for drones called Networked Remote ID (NRID), which provides a method for a drone to be automatically identified by both the telecom network and the UAS service supplier (USS). This mechanism may be used by eligible drones to fly in a safer manner.

Geographic SIM density map and QoS control

In a further effort to improve security for drone flights, EDM and TDC NET have set up test cases to demonstrate how a 5G network can continuously monitor ground population movements in an anonymous manner, in line with the SORA (Specific Operations Risk Assessment) methodology, which is accepted by civil aviation authorities around the world. The geographic SIM density map can be used to conduct a risk assessment, identify mitigations, and comply with safety objectives. This information can be used for pre-flight assessment, risk mitigation and to lower the drone take-off criteria.

To support different scenarios during a flight, EDM and TDC NET demonstrated how a 5G network can extend or limit the bandwidth available to a drone in a dynamic manner. EDM demonstrated how network exposure APIs can be used to dynamically control the quality of service (QoS) for individual drones. In the trial, drone network QoS was upgraded or limited by the drone operators in real time in line with the demands of the mission. When greater bandwidth was required, a dedicated bearer was established with defined QoS to support a specific video streaming quality. For example, a drone could request lower bandwidth during long distance travel, thereby conserving network resources. On reaching its destination, the QoS can be increased to support detailed surveillance.

In demonstrating the viability of these applications, Ericsson Drone Mobility has made important progress in making them a commercial reality. The showcase underscores the power and adaptability of APIs in telecom networks and its ability to support applications alongside other technologies, ultimately helping the industry understand they can make use of the full array of technologies available.

You can read more about the how telecom intelligence can be leveraged for drone ecosystem in the case study 5G Technology as the Backbone for Commercial Drone Usage.