More than 10% of drones in 2022 will be connected to LTE, Counterpoint says

According to new research from Counterpoint, more than 10% of the world’s drones will support eSIMs and advanced cellular connectivity by 2022.

“Operators are quite serious about LTE capable drones and are working with the DFS (German Aviation Authority), EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency), FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to leverage LTE connectivity to make drones visible to air traffic controllers, thereby improving aerial safety especially, for TBVOS (True Beyond Visual Line of Sight) commercial applications,” wrote Anshika Jain, an Analyst with Counterpoint Technology Market Research, on the company’s blog. “LTE connectivity in drones is also a big ARPU play for operators to enable real-time data transfer and analytics. The upcoming commercial use cases would require low latency and high-transmission range which can be enabled by a connectivity solution instead of Wi-Fi.”

Importantly, Jain added that the news is key for mobile operators looking to score additional revenues by installing cellular connections into objects beyond smartphones. Indeed, the title for her article is “Cellular Connected Drones Will be the ‘iPhone Moment’ for Drone Industry.”

Already, operators including T-Mobile and AT&T are scoring significant gains from the installation of cellular modems into objects like cars and watches. For example, BayStreet Research found the nation’s wireless network operators collectively are selling tens of thousands of Apple Watch devices every month, and the vast majority of those sales include a new line of wireless service.

Operators generally charge an extra $10 a month for Apple Watch cellular service. Furthermore, according to research firm Chetan Sharma Consulting, 2017 was a landmark year for the wireless industry because, for the first time, operators added more cars than phones during the period.

To be clear, the nation’s wireless operators are clearly taking a proactive approach to the drone opportunity. For example, T-Mobile said that its LTE network is also powering drone tests with the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the Kansas Department of Transportation and the City of Reno. Similarly, AT&T confirmed it is working with both the city of San Diego and the commonwealth of Virginia to support major tests of drone technology.

All that comes after vendors like Qualcomm pushed the notion that drones could grow into a mobile opportunity for the world’s wireless network operators.

However, Counterpoint’s mention of eSIM technology as part of the momentum behind cellular-connected drones could be complicated by an apparent slowdown of that technology in the U.S. market. According to reports, some of the nation’s largest wireless operators are being investigated by the Department of Justice for reportedly slowing the advance of eSIM technology in the country.

ESIM technology would allow customers to switch their service provider without having to insert a new SIM card into their existing phone.