Verizon lays out its LTE drone initiatives

AATI drone Verizon
The AATI team carries a drone to the airfield before a test flight. Image: Verizon

Not to be outdone by rival AT&T, Verizon today is talking about its Airborne LTE Operations (ALO) initiative, which, among other things, envisions using drones to help first responders in disaster recovery efforts and encourages developers to create ALO-enabled apps.

Verizon said it successfully completed technical trials in various locations across the country using a combination of unmanned and manned aircraft on its LTE network. As part of an early adopter simulation exercise in Cape May, New Jersey, unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) were used to demonstrate how Verizon’s LTE network can help first responders and emergency management personnel enhance disaster recovery efforts.

Verizon’s news comes after AT&T last summer launched the trial phase of its national drone program, led by Art Pregler. Last month, AT&T and Qualcomm Technologies announced they were testing drones on commercial LTE networks using Qualcomm’s facility in San Diego. Qualcomm CTO Matt Grob talked about the benefits of LTE-enabled drones during his keynote at CTIA Super Mobility 2016 last month, highlighting the work it’s doing with AT&T.

But Verizon said its network team began work to develop the technology for in-flight LTE operations back in 2014 and throughout 2015, and it’s painting a picture of itself as one that has taken a leadership role for the last two years.

“In our view, no one else in the industry has taken the kind of holistic approach of extending the reach of 4G LTE and IoT like Verizon,” Mike Lanman, senior vice president of Enterprise Products and IoT at Verizon, said in a prepared statement.

As part of its Internet of Things (IoT) strategy, Verizon’s initiative involves everything from a new device certification process to collaboration with partners like Sierra Wireless and American Aerospace Technologies Inc. (AATI) on aerial long-range applications beyond line of sight.

One of the big things drone engineers anticipate is getting federal regulations to allow unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operation beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). Verizon said it is working with AATI so that once regulations allow BVLOS, they will conduct tests to focus on BVLOS command-and-control cellular network communications for long-distance UAVs.

Verizon’s initial controlled trial with AATI was conducted with a 17-foot wingspan unmanned aircraft system. That aerial platform tested advanced aerial inspection techniques that can be applied not just to hundreds of miles of pipeline in rural Virginia, but also nationwide while connecting to Verizon’s 4G LTE network, the operator said.

“This latest trial demonstrated how emerging technology combined with wireless networks can improve safety and security,” Mike Haberman, vice president of Network Operations at Verizon, said in the press release. “A nationwide reliable 4G LTE network is the foundation for the future of mobile IoT in the air.”

Once Verizon certifies that a device has met its Open Development requirements for wireless connectivity and usage on its LTE network, aerial devices may be used for multiple applications by embedding the device on the UAV itself, as an add-on device to the UAV or even in conjunction with a low-altitude flying manned aircraft – in accordance with the operators’ compliance with other applicable rules. Devices certified by Verizon will be listed on the company’s Open Development portal.

Verizon suggested use cases for drones such as:

  • Studying pipelines and high-voltage lines without endangering human life
  • Aerial imaging to increase agriculture yields while decreasing water usage and pesticides
  • Enabling first responders to survey the spread of wildfires or the extent of flooding or tornado damage using unmanned aircraft

Verizon pointed out that it was the first wireless service provider to become a member of the Small UAV Coalition. Last year, it came out that Verizon Wireless was among several companies working with NASA on experiments related to the monitoring of drones. Verizon reportedly signed an agreement with NASA in 2014 to explore whether cell towers could support communications and surveillance of UAS at low altitudes.

Next up, Verizon said it will launch a new suite of services as early as 2017 on its ThingSpace IoT platform to help developers and businesses create and manage a range of ALO-enabled applications backed by secure cloud and analytics capabilities.

For more:
- see the Verizon announcement

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