According to a post on the company’s website, “Verizon is seeking to be the first carrier to connect one million drone flights to the 5G network.”
Verizon has had its sights set on the market for some time, acquiring drone company Skyward in early 2017, just a few months after offering wireless plans aimed at drone makers. The company sees far more potential, however, especially for companies looking to operate fleets of drones, which cost significantly less than helicopters or planes.
Verizon is counting on the speed of its 5G Ultra Wideband network, along with mobile edge computing (MEC) to provide the missing ingredient necessary for widespread drone deployment. With MEC “more complex functions can be performed nearer to the user and away from centralized servers. By shortening the distance data has to travel, drones will be able to perform more latency-sensitive tasks. As a knock-on benefit, because bulky processors can be offloaded, drones have the potential to get smaller and faster, with extended battery life, so they can stay in the air and on the job longer.”
Verizon sees tremendous opportunity in the field, as a mere “10% of major enterprises have a drone program, and none of them are connected to a wireless network,” says Mariah Scott, president of Skyward. “We knew early on that connectivity would be critical for drones to truly transform our world. And now 5G Ultra Wideband will usher in a new era in aviation, where we connect and integrate drones into the national airspace.”
The two companies are working closely to overcome the remaining hurdles for widespread adoption. Verizon’s network will allow operators to pilot drones from thousands of miles away, while its MEC capabilities will make drones viable for a wider range of industries. In the meantime, “Skyward recently unveiled advanced airspace intelligence for drone pilots, including essential ground intelligence and 3D views of more than one million vertical obstacles.”
The timing is definitely right for Verizon’s ambitions, as the Federal Aviation Administration recently proposed rules that would allow it to identify and track the majority of active drones. This is seen as a major step in integrating drones into the national airspace alongside existing aerial vehicles.