T-Mobile’s 5G off to the drone races

The 5G magenta drone will make its inaugural public flight this week in Iowa at the T-Mobile-sponsored MLB At Field of Dreams – delivering first-person views of the ballpark and movie site. (T-Mobile)

In a new partnership with The Drone Racing League (DRL), T-Mobile today unveiled a 5G-enabled drone that will take flight during the professional drone racing season to deliver HD video-focused experiences for sports fans.

Down the line as the drone tech advances, T-Mobile said 5G can help enhance drone racing pilots’ competitive flying abilities and also support fan-facing applications.

According to the carrier, the drone (which is decked out in T-Mobile’s signature magenta color) is one of the world’s first racing drones equipped with an embedded 5G module that can live stream video straight to the internet.

The module, made by Quectel, supports all of T-Mobile’s sub-6 GHz 4G and 5G frequencies (meaning low-band 600 MHz and higher-capacity mid-band 2.5 GHz are in the mix, but not millimeter wave), including standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) configurations.  

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DRL puts on professional drone racing events around the globe that are broadcast to tens of millions of fans, noted DRL CEO and founder Nick Horbaczewski in a video look at how the drone was created with T-Mobile.

DRL and T-Mobile worked on technical development and testing for the 5G drone. (T-Mobile)

In the video, T-Mobile President of Technology Neville Ray said the partnership is about two fast-growing markets – both drones and tech-powered sports.  

“Drones are one of the most compelling use cases for 5G and we’re working towards a future where all drones will eventually be 5G-connected – that’s why we’ve teamed up with DRL, to fuel this innovation,” Ray said in statement, also pointing to drones for use in disaster recovery and parcel delivery.  

The drone won’t be racing in DRL competitions just yet, but during the league’s 2021-2022 season it will fly at both DRL and T-Mobile events to show immersive video content. At DRL events, for example, the drone will capture previews of the course and 3D racetracks, streamed to broadcasters over the T-Mobile 5G wireless network for fans at home.

Equipped with a dual First Person View (FPV) and HD streaming camera system, FPV race footage streamed to broadcasters is another element to help bump up the excitement factor for audiences of high-speed (over 60 MPH) drone flight racing competition.

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“The Drone Racing League is a perfect case study for showcasing the benefits of T-Mobile 5G wireless technology with our high-speed racing drones. Our fans love innovation and discovering how new technology is developed, and we know our 5G-enabled drone will get them excited about new ways they will be able to experience the immersive thrill of professional drone racing,” said DRL President Rachel Jacobson in a statement.

While first focused on fan experience, the next development phase will see the embedded 5G module connect the drone’s command and control functions to allow flight over T-Mobile’s 5G network. Currently, DRL pilots fly using analog radio transmissions that provide lower latency but with the tradeoff of quality video footage in their goggles. T-Mobile said its 5G network will provide speed, capacity and low latency for real-time high-quality FPV video to boost drone flying abilities.

Before getting started on drone races, the 5G magenta drone will make its inaugural public flight this week in Iowa at the T-Mobile-sponsored MLB At Field of Dreams – delivering first-person views of the ballpark and movie site.

Check out a video of the technical development and initial 5G test flights in the video below.