May 11, 2017
On April 5, Verizon conducted engineering flight tests to determine how large an area of wireless coverage can be created aerially using a flying cell site aboard a long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) piloted by American Aerospace Technologies (AATI). The test of airborne LTE took place at Woodbine Municipal Airport in Woodbine, New Jersey, and was designed to simulate an environment in which commercial power is knocked out indefinitely by severe weather or other occurrences that interrupt traditional communications services.
Verizon conducted the test under a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) issued by the FAA to Cape May County in preparation for an emergency preparedness exercise involving county, state and federal emergency responders. Christopher Desmond of Verizon Network said the test built upon a test flights Verizon conducted in October 2016 to demonstrate aerial coverage.
In October, Verizon used an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) at Cape May Airport in New Jersey to test delivering 4G LTE network coverage from the drone itself, as essentially a small cell site in the sky. A UAS consists of an unmanned aerial vehicle and ground-based controller apparatus. This was the first test with Verizon’s Airborne LTE Operations (ALO) during an emergency management and disaster recovery exercise. The test proved that 4G LTE coverage can be provided from an aircraft to first-responders in the event no traditional service is available.
Verizon has a long history of being about to get out in the wake of a disaster, according to Dave McCarley, a Verizon Network Technology Fellow. “We consider ourselves to be leaders in this area, not just in thought leadership, the leaders in action,” McCarley said. “Instead of the cell site being planted on the ground, we lifted that equipment up into the belly of a small aircraft to provide coverage where it otherwise might not be.”
The test used a 17-foot-wingspan RS-20 drone, owned and operated by AATI. The FAA authorized the drone to fly as high as 7,500 feet, but it was tested with Verizon’s network at 3,000 feet and below. The aircraft is capable of flying as high as 22,000 feet. It can fly 12 to 16 hours at a time. With a weight of 165 pounds, the drone can fly in windy weather. The drone live-streams imagery of the ground to emergency personnel.
The drone connects with Verizon’s network, not for piloting, but for providing a 4G LTE signal to emergency personnel through the aircraft.
Verizon conducted the technical trial under authority of a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) issued by the FAA to the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). The NJIT approved the operation and participated in the research conducted by Verizon and AATI. Data on the flight activity was shared with the FAA in order to advance its goal of safely integrating UAS into the National Airspace.
Small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) were used to conduct cell site inspections in the Carolinas in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. The aerial footage allowed rapid assessment of any damage to cell sites that were inaccessible by land due to the flood waters.
Verizon conducted its first drone venue inspection at the Circuit of the America’s (COTA) racetrack in Austin, Texas, to measure network coverage. The drone carried two smartphones to test the 4G LTE network and record data. The drones were able to fly easily over a large concert area, rows of bleachers and spectator areas still under construction. The drone-based system performance testing took half the time it would take to walk the venue.
Measure, a company that uses different types of drones based on flight needs, used quadcopter drones for both inspections. Small drones weigh 55 pounds or less.
Both drones capture HD video images and can be equipped to capture network performance data.
Measure operates under FAA authorization with a two-person crew that includes a ground pilot and visual observer for safe, legal and insured operations.
Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, said it comes down to what really matters: saving lives and property. “In terms of emergency preparedness, this is the future,” he said.
This article was compiled from press releases and video from Verizon.
To spur innovation and adoption of internet-of-things (IoT) services in high-growth markets, Verizon purchased Skyward, an unmanned aerial system company in Portland, Oregon. Verizon wanted Skyward’s expertise to use in simplifying unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) operations and management. In 2016, Verizon received $1 billion in IoT-related revenue.
Information released by Verizon said that internationally, companies rely on Skyward for managing operations, improving safety and lowering operating costs. With the acquisition, Verizon intends for businesses small and large to have a single source for integrating, managing and wirelessly connecting their drone operations, linking people, projects and equipment into one clear and efficient workflow.
“We announced our strategy to drive innovation and widespread adoption for in-flight wireless connectivity through our Airborne LTE Operations (ALO) initiative, a new service to simplify certification and connectivity of wireless drones,” said Mike Lanman, senior vice president of enterprise products and IoT at Verizon. He said the acquisition helps Verizon focus on operating in innovative, high-growth markets. He also said it helps the company use its network, scale, fleet management, device management, data analytics and security enablement capabilities and services to simplify the drone industry and help support the adoption of IoT.
Skyward’s founder and CEO is Jonathan Evans. “Drones are becoming an essential tool for improving business processes at large companies, but scalability has been a challenge,” Evans said. “Skyward’s drone operations management platform combined with Verizon’s network, reliability, scale and expertise in delivering enterprise solutions will allow organizations to efficiently and safely scale drones across multiple divisions and hundreds of use cases.”
With Skyward’s technology, Verizon will streamline the management of drone operations through one platform designed to handle end-to-end activities such as mission planning, complex workflow, FAA compliance support, supplying information about restricted airspace and pilot credentialing, drone registration and provisioning rate plans for drones on Verizon’s network. All of this is designed to help developers and businesses create and manage a wide-range of services backed by Verizon’s mobile private network, secure cloud interconnect and data analytics capabilities.