September 06, 2016      

Qualcomm and AT&T will start testing this month how well drones fly on commercial 4G LTE networks and future 5G networks, analyzing what the impact will be on future drone operations.

The tests will at coverage, signal, strength and mobility across network cells and how they function during flights. Qualcomm and AT&T say this will help ensure drones stay connected to a network during beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights. Once BVLOS flights are reliable, drone delivery, remote inspection, exploration, and other commercial drone uses will be more reliable.

“With a focus on both regulatory and commercial needs, LTE connectivity has the potential to deliver optimal flight plans, transmit flight clearances, track drone location and adjust flight routes in near real-time,” says Chris Penrose, AT&T’s senior vice president of IoT Solutions. “Solving for the connectivity challenges of complex flight operations is an essential first step to enabling how drones will work in the future.”

The test flights will be based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Flight drone development platform – a SoC (system on a chip) for drones. Snapdragon, which is already used by some drones, features a quad-core 2.26GHz processor, dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GNSS support, real-time flight control, and 4K video.

Qualcomm and AT&T will start the trials this month at Qualcomm Technologies’ San Diego Campus at a FAA-authorized drone flight center. The center contains “real world” conditions including commercial, residential, uninhabited areas and FAA controlled airspace.

The companies say this drone testing won’t affect AT&T’s everyday network operations.

The long-awaited regulations for small commercial drones went into effect on Aug. 29, 2016. The new Part 107 rules from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) apply to drones that weigh under 55 pounds. Essentially, companies that want to use small drones for commercial purposes no longer need permission from the government to do so. Now companies can fly small drones after they pass a multiple-choice test and pay a small fee.

This 624-page document outlines everything you need to know, but here’s a quick look at what the new rules include:

  • Drone operators must still maintain visual line of sight with the naked eye while the drone is flying.
  • Drones can only fly in the daytime, but twilight flying is allowed if the drone has anti-collision lights.
  • Drones can’t fly over people who aren’t participating in the operation of the drone.
  • Drones cannot fly higher than 400 feet or faster than 100 MPH.
  • Drones can carry packages, but the combined weight of the drone and packages must be less than 55 pounds.
  • Drone operators must be over 16 years old.