T-Mobile outlines 600 MHz, 700 MHz and 5G drone ambitions

DJI is using Hong Kong Sevens 2018 to showcase its drone technology and hold a public e-sports competition (Image DJI)
Advances in technology could allow pilots to remotely fly drones beyond their line of sight. (DJI)

T-Mobile confirmed that its LTE network is also powering a number of major drone tests around the country, efforts the company said are part of its work to ensure its network will connect future drone-based businesses.

“T-Mobile is working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the Kansas Department of Transportation and the City of Reno to test and explore capabilities of our LTE network to enable advanced drone operations,” the carrier said in a statement to FierceWireless.

T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray initially pointed to the carrier’s drone work in a tweet:

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The tests are part of an undertaking by the U.S. secretary of transportation to create a regulatory framework that can integrate drones into the nation’s airspace. USDOT said this week it selected 10 state, local and tribal governments as participants in its Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program. The White House initiative partners the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with local, state and tribal governments, “which then partner with private sector participants to safely explore the further integration of drone operations,” according to a USDOT release.

AT&T previously confirmed that it is working with both the city of San Diego and the commonwealth of Virginia on their drone tests in the program.

“T-Mobile’s LTE network will be used to test and support cellular drone command and control, beyond visual line of site flying, remote ID and tracking, UAS traffic management (UTM), delivery solutions and more,” T-Mobile said in its statement, adding that the current tests make use of its LTE network but that it will “work towards expanding drone operations and use cases with 5G.”

Importantly, T-Mobile said that it received particular interest in its 600 MHz and 700 MHz LTE operations from participants in the drone-testing program. That’s not a surprise considering those low-band spectrum licenses generally support broad coverage areas. Such coverage areas likely will come into play in the FAA’s efforts to expand non-line-of-sight technologies for drone piloting—amateur drone pilots today must keep their drones at or below 400 feet and must be able to see the devices at all times.