5G industry news Technologies | Devices & Sensors

Connected Drones | Shaping Our Future Airspace

  • 8 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 22 Jun 2022
  • Last modified 20 Jun 2022
Written by the KM Team, TDA - Ayan Ghosh in collaboration with the vendors.

Drones are everywhere today and starting to shape future businesses across a wide range of sectors. This comes at a time when organisations are exploring ways to be more efficient, innovative and ambitious with their service delivery making it an exciting time for the UK’s drone sector.

The drone opportunity

Updated evidence by PwC shows, if fully adopted, UK public and private sector drone use could deliver a[£42bn GDP uplift from drone uptake by 2030. (Source:PwC#intelligent digital) Drones are helping to keep our trains running, our roads, bridges and waterways safe and ensuring our energy sector and power lines are working safely and efficiently. PWC’s analysis shows cost savings can be achieved across all sectors, and forecasts their greatest impact will be through new drone delivery services and in helping maintain our energy, transport and building infrastructure through high fidelity inspection.(Source: PwC #intelligent digital)

Drone technology innovators, powered by advances in robotics, battery power, imaging, communications, sensing and artificial intelligence, are on the cusp of delivering new breakthrough capabilities. Supported by increasing levels of investment, drones will safely fly further and more autonomously, improving current and unlocking new business models. However, the benefits of drones are well beyond productivity benefits. Coastguard, police and fire and rescue services are already using drones to respond to emergencies and keep workers safe. As drone capabilities improve they will bring us entirely new services, including routine and emergency medical deliveries. They will reduce road congestion and carbon emissions.

Future innovative drone-based use cases such as autonomous emergency search and rescue, cell tower inspections, inventory management, outdoor surveillance, and smart factory – hybrid logistics to demonstrate  drone-based emergency and search rescue and drone-based autonomous surveillance products.

Drone flying near wind turbine
- consultation launched on 10 June 2022

Drones can improve safety and reduce carbon emissions, as they increasingly replace light and fixed wing aircraft and replace at-risk operators working at height.or consultation launched on 10 June 2022n confined spaces.

Government is committed to supporting drones and the future of aviation, including the £125m Future Flight challenge and is working with the drone community to articulate the drone opportunity and reap the benefits to the UK of commercial drone adoption.

The challenges

Flight regulations and authorisation are identified as a  primary concern. The requirement for communication technologies for enabling drone control, authentication, authorisation, and data transmission are all very relevant to the 5G Trials and Testbed Programme in which some of our projects have drone usage as demonstrators of 5G technology. 

There is also a  real need for the adoption of mobile and SIM card technologies to  enhance drone capabilities, including flight control, situational awareness and conspicuity, payload management and data exchange.  90% of drones operate in locations with existing cellular network coverage (Source: EY).

The following are some example activities or case studies that are underway helping push the potential of this technology. Ofcom is currently working with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to support a number of trials as the responsible entity for granting permissions for drone flight. A number of the trials are using 4G/5G or satellite technologies for controlling the drones and to transmit data. Ofcom is currently enabling drone activity via an Innovation and Trial licensing approach with a view to come up with proposals to allow operational use. These proposals are the subject of a consultation launched on 10 June 2022.

"We expect  enterprise, logistics, and public sector including smart cities use of drones to grow rapidly, driven by expanding adoption of autonomous solutions powered by AI and high-speed communications and recognition of efficiency gained through automation and digitalization of processes and Government  and the sector are collaborating to bring these new business models to fruition, and to prove these technologies are safe’’.

Drone connectivity and communications

A government funded 5G Testbed and Trials Programme 5G Logistics is supporting 5G connectivity to test inter-connected mobile comms/5G capabilities to demonstrate how lesser known upcoming 5G features could improve current logistics and supply chain processes, while creating new economic strands like dynamic freeport manufacturing zones and integrated supply chain networks across the UK.

A 5G Logistics consortium led by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) will support a 5G testbed initiative of products and services that enable drone-based automated synchronisation and security in logistics management. This will support a smart, dynamic Freeport economy.

The Bristol Ports

Automated drone flights for port police will demonstrate how efficiency could be improved by event-triggered surveillance and multi-robot integration. The Ports of Bristol Police have responsibility for policing and securing the Avonmouth and Royal Portbury Docks. The 2600 acres estate is surrounded by a perimeter security fence.

An autonomous drone, powered by AI analysis, can check the fence line more frequently  and respond to expected breaches more rapidly. A connection to a 5G network enables real time, drone-mounted CCTV functionality at any location within the Port's estate. Together with the ability to deliver potentially lifesaving payloads, drones support their aspiration of being the UK leader in delivering port safety and security. Supplying the Port of Bristol Police is UK technology startup

Unmanned Life which uses;

software to deploy, control, and orchestrate drones, enabling autonomous drone swarms to provide efficient solutions for surveillance, inspections, delivery, and more. Their AI, 5G, and Edge computing to maximise value through data offloading in real-time, valuable AI analytics on live drone feeds, and low latency drone control.

drone over a building

Unmanned Life has successfully trialled drones for emergency search and rescue, cell tower inspections, inventory management, outdoor surveillance, and smart factory – hybrid logistics.  They are part of the Freeport 5G logistics testbed initiative consortium led by WECA.

In healthcare 5G can help drones to deliver healthcare samples, organs, blood and medical supplies.  Altitude Angel is working to create what is expected to be the world’s first commercial drone corridor in open and unrestricted space.  The corridor, which will be located in the Thames Valley, will be available to support fully automated drone flights, including those extending beyond visual line of sight and is designed to be an exemplar for mass-commercial drone usage. Ofcom permits hospital drone deliveries during the coronavirus pandemic, drones were used to deliver urgent medical supplies between two UK hospitals, overcoming major supply challenges. Ofcom granted special permission for drones to be used as part of a transport link between Southampton Hospital and St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight..  One of the key use cases; Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) which covers an extensive rural and island geography,  have already conducted a drone delivery proof of concept in response to Covid-19 where the use of drones was used for transporting organs and blood supplies

5G Rural First used drones to analyse soil conditioning on a hands free hectare.  

Grass in livestock production provides the most economic feed, however limitations exist in effectively managing grasslands to support precision grazing.  A 5G enabled drone with a multi-spectral camera automates this activity  enabling real time data to be realised with a time and cost savings.


The 5G-AMC2 project will explore and develop 5G-enabled data-rich solutions that, when integrated with existing construction data-management systems, enable the collection, analysis and use of data to maximise productivity. The project will deploy a number of solutions including cameras, drones, mixed-reality and Internet of Things (IoTs) sensors which monitor the construction process. A use case in Shetland - Advanced Surveying and Data Streaming (ASDS)  is using a UAV to stream high-definition live video with 5G network for interactive live remote site visit. The remote access of live feeds survey data enables visibility of site progress, quicker resolution of issues and targeted data collection in real-time.

Overcoming barriers

Main barriers are early market adoption due to it being an innovative solution, as well as regulations governing permits/authorisations to conduct drone flights. To address these barriers, Unmanned Life has built several Demo Kits and Proof of Concepts (POCs) to demonstrate the business value, safety and reliability of our technology. They are also part of key EU R&D projects to demonstrate safety at an international level. The company has established strong relations with EU and UK Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) for example, the CAA and Austro Control, to enable smooth and efficient sourcing of drone flight authorisations for these Demo Kits and POCs.

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