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December 18, 2018updated 03 Jan 2019 2:26pm

UK’s first drone delivery over 4G sees Vodafone bring Christmas cheer

By Ellen Daniel

From safety inspections to deliveries, and even transporting people in the near future, drones are becoming an increasingly common site in British skies.

Around 76,000 drones are expected to be flown in the UK by 2030, but there is one sticking point. Drones are usually flown using a radio link, with the drone in site of the drone operator on the ground. However, telecoms company Vodafone wants to change that, and has conducted the first ever flight using its 4G mobile network.

Flying drones using a mobile network means that they can be monitored in real-time beyond the line of site, so no longer need to be near the drone operator on the ground. This opens up new possibilities for transporting deliveries to hard-to-reach places.

Drone delivery via 4G

To test this approach to drone delivery, Vodafone conducted a test flight with a festive twist. A drone, decorated to look like Santa’s sleigh, completed an 800m flight to the Portland Bill Coastwatch, a coastguard station located on one of the most southerly points of the UK.

The 75 volunteers based at the station were able to enjoy a delivery of Christmas treats, thanks to Vodafone’s 4G network, which covers 99% of the UK population.

In the future, 4G drones could be used to drop vital supplies or medical aid to remote locations, with other uses cases in construction and environmental monitoring in rural areas.

However, with 5G mobile networks expected to arrive in the UK by 2020, these capabilities are only set to improve. The lower latency, or lag, offered by 5G will mean that drones can respond to obstacles such as buildings more quickly, an especially important factor in urban areas.

Vodafone is working on various drone projects, including trials of the world’s first air traffic control drone tracking and safety technology.

Anne Sheehan, Enterprise Director, Vodafone Business said:

“Technology plays an increasingly important role in connecting people and businesses over Christmas. Flying a drone over 4G for the first time gives us a glimpse into the future; 4G or 5G-enabled drones will be used in a range of sectors, from agriculture and retail to construction and energy. We are helping businesses get ready for an exciting connected future, supported by our most reliable network ever.”

Here’s the drone in action:

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