Verizon is working with drone manufacturers to connect the unmanned aircraft to its wireless network. The carrier has been conducting preliminary tests for two years and last week said it wants to use cellular-connected drones to provide mobile communications to fill holes in its network during emergencies.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy left about 25 percent of Verizon’s cell towers in 10 states damaged or unusable, according to phoneArena.com. Now, the carrier currently has trucks and trailers with temporary cell towers used in such situations and plans to add drones as well.
In a demonstration in Cape May, New Jersey last week, Verizon and American Aerospace Technologies Inc. (AATI) tested connectivity between the aircraft and Verizon’s 4G LTE network using a drone with a 17-foot wingspan. In announcing the demo, Verizon said it’s been developing the LTE Airborne Operations project for two years and hopes to launch in 2017.
The latest successful trial “demonstrated how emerging technology combined with wireless networks can improve safety and security,” said Mike Haberman, vice president, Network Operations, Verizon. “A nationwide reliable 4G LTE network is the foundation for the future of mobile IoT in the air.”
He’s referring to Verizon’s ThingSpace IoT platform. The carrier plans to launch a new suite of services in 2017 on that platform, to help businesses create and manage Airborne LTE Operations-enabled apps.
What’s the next step and beyond? Once federal regulations allow drone operation beyond visual line-of-sight, AATI and Verizon will test command-and-control cell network communications for long-distance drones.
AT&T too, is phasing-in a drone program Inside Towers has reported. Both carriers view connecting drones to their call networks as potential revenue streams, according to the Wall Street Journal, which quotes Verizon as saying future drone data plans could start at $25 a month for 1 gigabyte of data and $80 for 10 gigabytes. That’s roughly what consumers pay Verizon now for data.