AT&T and Qualcomm to research drone use on LTE networks

Major goal is to test drones when they fly out of sight of the operator

A drone

AT&T and Qualcomm said Tuesday they will be testing drones on commercial 4G LTE wireless networks.

The companies want to test how drones can operate safely and more securely on commercial 4G LTE and upcoming 5G networks, they said in a joint statement. Trials begin later in September at Qualcomm's San Diego campus.

Researchers said the goal is to help enable future drone operations, including when regulations evolve to allow drones to fly beyond an operator's line of sight. With that capability, a drone could be used for deliveries of packages and other goods, as well as for remote inspections and explorations. A drone, for example, could assess damage in a hurricane or windstorm, but would probably need to fly well beyond of the vision of an operator.

To deliver packages or conduct inspections and searches will require a highly secure and reliable wireless connection, something that LTE has the potential to provide. LTE connections could deliver flight plans wirelessly to drones and track their location and adjust flight routes in near real-time.

"Solving the connectivity challenges of complex flight operations is an essential first step in enabling how drones will work in the future," Chris Penrose, senior vice president of Internet of Things Solutions at AT&T, said in a statement.

Qualcomm will use its Snapdragon Flight drone software and chip development platform for control and navigation. The chip is already in use in some commercially available drones. It allows high fidelity sensor processing, autonomous visual navigation and 4k video.

Qualcomm CTO Matt Grob is expected to discuss the LTE-based drone test during a keynote at CTIA Super Mobility in Las Vegas on Thursday.

AT&T said at CES in January that it was collaborating with another major player, Intel, on drone research. The effort with Qualcomm is new.

In July, AT&T said it wants to use drones to inspect its 65,000 cellular transmission towers nationwide. The carrier also opened the door to using drones on tethers as flying cellular transmission points that could boost wireless capacity where needed -- at crowded sporting events, or to supplement a cellular tower damaged by a storm or other disaster.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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