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Why is 5G important for smart city drones?

by | May 10, 2022 | 5G, Connectivity, Drones

 Drones exist in a variety of forms and sizes, and there are several applications for them. Deliveries, infrastructure inspection, security enforcement, emergency response, and 3D city mapping are just a few of the interesting uses for drones in the context of a smart city. The flying robots can execute a wide range of activities faster, more securely, and at a lower cost than humans.

A story by Diana Blass and Jo Kassis.

Diana is Kurrant Insights’ Editor-in-Chief and video director. She is passionate about technologies that have a real impact on people.

Jo is an IoT-focused content strategist. He creates in-depth reports to keep our readers up to date on the newest industry developments.

Drones are already being utilized in some regions, but they are usually piloted by humans and must stay within visual range for safety. This is changing, though, as more and more player in the industry such as Qualcomm, Skydio, Percepto to name a few are producing self-flying drones. Using artificial intelligence, these drones can fly independently without a human pilot, leave their base, carry out missions, and return to the base.

To realize their full potential, drones must be able to fly beyond the line of sight, which needs among other things, a 5G connection – but what does this entail?

5G for Beyond Line of Sight Drone Operations

5G is one fo the keys to enable autonomous and long-distance flying drones operation in urban environments. This is due to 5G’s increased bandwidth and reduced latency compared to earlier generations of mobile technology. It implies that drones can communicate in real time with one another and with a ground control station.

By reducing latency, operators can view and respond to events in near real time almost as quickly as the human brain. For example, if a drone is flying at 40 km/h, a 100 milliseconds (ms) delay indicates that the drone has flown approximately one meter before the operator views the footage. One meter in a highly dense urban area might easily pose a high risk of collision.

To put things into context The typical latency of a 4G network is roughly 50ms, networks have an average delay of 10ms, and the human brain can interpret a picture viewed for as little as 13ms.

Some definitions

Beyond Visual Line of Sight: Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) is the buzzword in the drone market. Countries throughout the world are revising their drone rules to enable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to fly beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) for optimal efficiency. Unlike VLOS flights, which fly inside the pilot’s line of sight, BVLOS missions go beyond the pilot’s visual range. A drone’s BVLOS capabilities allow it to travel far longer distances.

Latency: Latency is the amount of time it takes for a command to be sent to a drone and see its response. Shorter latency allows for faster reaction interactions. .

Beyond safety, 5G improves drones capabilities

While increasing the frame rate and enhancing the video compression could potentially help decrease latency, it does not measure with 5G low latency and the network’s strength that impacts transmission time and limits how rapidly data can be delivered reaches a limit.

Because of the connectivity limitations of early drone technology, all data from drone-mounted cameras, sensors, and telemetry could only be transferred from the drone’s hard drive after it had landed. A 5G connection enables the drone to relay data back to base in real time.

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A longer delay also means that operators cannot fly the drones as rapidly, which means that critical activities such as scanning metropolitan areas or executing rescue missions would take too long.

Of course, there would be difficulties in deploying 5G technology. 5G networks, for example, need more infrastructure than previous generations, which might be pricey. Furthermore, buildings and trees may easily obscure 5G signals.

Where does the technology stand today?

Today, most countries demand considerable testing to verify safety and dependability before approving beyond-visual-range unmanned vehicle missions. NUAIR, a New York-based nonprofit organization that provides expertise in unmanned aircraft systems and is a member of Open Generation, manages one of the primary test sites.

In New York, it comprises of a 50-mile unmanned aircraft systems corridor. The corridor contains an experimental hub with more than 100 square miles devoted to 5G beyond-visual-line-of-site testing and long-range flight pathways, including NUAIR coordination – a capacity vital to the commercialization of safe and secure unmanned aircraft systems.

With the advancement of 5G technology we are getting one step closer to making smart city drones a reality, but according to Toni Basile Vice President for Operations at NUAIR Alliance, 5G is only one of the keys to enabling 5G as there are other roadblocks related to regulations and other technical areas.

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What comes next for drones in smart cities?

It’s thrilling to think of all the potential possibilities for drones in urban environments. The sky is literally the limit for these remarkable devices, from package delivery to autonomous flying robots. We can only speculate on what new and novel ways drones may be employed in the next years.


As we get closer to overcome the connectivity issue thanks to 5G for drones in urban areas there are still some other roadblocks and opportunities to look for in terms of regulation, technology, and infrastructure. Check out our most recent documentary on the subject to learn more: Documentary will be released on May 11 on 

Diana Blass and Jo Kassis Photo

A story by Diana Blass and Jo Kassis.

Diana is Kurrant Insights’ Editor-in-Chief and video director. She is passionate about technologies that have a real impact on people.

Jo is an IoT-focused content strategist. He creates in-depth reports to keep our readers up to date on the newest industry developments.


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