Don't look now, but those drones may soon be carrying phones. Nokia (NYSE:NOK) is requesting a Special Temporary Authority (STA) from the FCC to conduct tests using three commercial smartphones attached to a drone. The company wants to do the tests at the Kansas City Speedway in Kansas for a three-month period starting next month.
The proposed test plan calls for the use of a drone carrying three commercial phones operating in 1700-2100 MHz (AWS) and 1900 MHz (PCS) bands only. The application states that all of the phones will be locked onto LTE carriers within AT&T's (NYSE: T) PCS and AWS bands and will not transmit in the 850 MHz (cellular) band.
Zaheer Rahmani, who is listed as the point of contact on the application, declined to discuss the tests with FierceWirelessTech because they're still evolving and there's a customer NDA involved.
The application states that Nokia intends to conduct proof of concept (PoC) using UAVs to collect RF data for mobile network optimization, so they can measure RF performance in a setting where a lot of people congregate at specific times. "Purpose of this operation is to perform tests measuring radio frequency signal strength of a mobile network using a drone (UAV) with 3 commercial smartphones (UEs) attached to it," according to the application.
One UE will act as controller, and two UEs will collect RF measurements and a DRT receiver also may be used to collect RF signal strength. One of the UE's controls the other two test UEs and the DRT receiver via Bluetooth. "The control system for the drone will operate in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band in which the FCC has allowed operation of radio control aircraft," the application states. Specifically, the researchers want to use two Samsung Galaxy S4s, a Verizon LG G2 and one RC Airplane Receiver.
The idea is to start June 15 and continue tests during a three-month window. The application also notes that the FCC registration number being used for the STA is under the Alcatel-Lucent name, which was acquired by Nokia this past January.
While drones are often cited in devices geared for 5G, the industry isn't waiting for the next generation of wireless to get experiments underway. At Mobile World Congress 2016, AT&T said it would be working with Intel to test how drones operate on an LTE network at higher altitudes and in situations that are beyond line of sight. They said they would conduct tests to see how it affects video streaming, transmitting telematics and flight information.
Last year, T-Mobile US CEO and President John Legere predicted that 2016 would see more practical uses for drones and noted that T-Mobile already uses drones to inspect towers in hard-to-reach areas.
- see this STA application
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