Could Drones Call Each Other Using 5G?

After pushing cellular technology that would allow cars to communicate with each other, Qualcomm is now making a similar proposal for drones. It's a timely idea.

Light Reading

July 10, 2024

3 Min Read
three drones flying in the sky

This article originally appeared on Light Reading.

Qualcomm's proposal comes at an important time for the drone industry. New federal rules could pave the way for retail giants like Amazon and Walmart to manage swarms of delivery drones.

Such delivery drone fleets could also create significant opportunities for the wireless companies that would provide connections to those flying gadgets.

"Pitney Bowes estimates that about 59 million packages are delivered every day in the US," Qualcomm wrote in a new post to its website. "If 50% of those deliveries were done by drones, that would require nearly 30 million drone flights each day."

Indeed, Amazon said recently that its goal is to deliver 500 million packages annually using drones by the end of the decade.


In its new proposal, Qualcomm explained that drones need to be able to communicate with a wide variety of objects, including other drones, in order to avoid collisions and other problems.

To make that communication happen, Qualcomm is suggesting that regulators use a variation of sidelink, a technology developed by the 3GPP standards organization for direct, walkie talkie-type device-to-device communications. 3GPP is the primary standards association behind technologies including 3G, 4G and 5G.

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"Allowing drones to constantly talk to one other via A2X enhances situational awareness of the surrounding risks and improves drone safety and functionality," Qualcomm wrote.

3GPP standards are also at work in a related scenario: cellular vehicle-to-everything (CV2X) communications. Qualcomm and others have been pushing that effort in the automotive industry so that cars will be able to directly communicate with each other and with roadside objects like stoplights in order to prevent accidents. CV2X could also potentially support autonomous vehicles. But CV2X deployments are still working to gain traction.

Qualcomm also urged regulators to set aside part of the 5GHz band for A2X communications among drones and other flying devices. As Light Reading previously reported, a new proceeding at the FCC seeks to allocate a relatively small slice of spectrum in the 5GHz band directly to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones. 

Thus, Qualcomm's A2X proposal essentially builds on the FCC's proceeding and dovetails with the company's efforts in the automotive connectivity sector.

Flying Forward

Drones remain an area of interest for companies in the wireless industry. For example, Walmart's drone strategy runs through a startup called DroneUp, and that company in turn relies on vendor Elsight for its wireless connections. Elsight's Halo platform supports 4G and 5G connections from multiple cellular providers in real time.

Related:Robots, Drones and Driverless Tractors Usher In New Age of Farming

Wireless network operators would like to see drone programs by Walmart and others expand, so that they could sell more wireless connections for the gadgets.

Along those lines, Congress' new FAA Reauthorization Act of 2024 requires federal regulators to develop rules for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) communications among drones. That's a critical step drone companies will need to take as they work to get widespread drone deliveries off the ground.

In a blog posted in May, Amazon said the FAA has already granted the company additional permissions to conduct extended BVLOS operations in College Station, Texas. 

"It's taken years of inventing, testing and improving to develop these breakthrough technologies, and now, on the heels of regulatory approval and cutting-edge technology, we're excited to launch this next chapter for Prime Air," Amazon wrote.

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