AT&T is going to do a wide-scale trial of drones to see if the unmanned aircraft can enhance network coverage and signal strength for existing LTE networks and future networks like 5G. The company is teaming with chipmaker Qualcomm on the test.
Specifically, AT&T says it will look at how the aircraft can operate safely and securely on commercial wireless networks. The trial will also explore how the devices can be used to improve coverage, signal strength, and mobility across network cells.
According to Qualcomm, findings from the trial could be used in the development of drone regulations and also in 5G specifications, which are currently being developed.
AT&T is already working with drones. The company has been using the devices to inspect its cell sites. The tower trial, which is expected to roll out commercially this month, uses drones outfitted with video cameras and are connected to the LTE network to stream live video feeds of the site to the network operations manager.
AT&T isn’t the first operator to test drones for 5G. China Mobile is also experimenting with 5G-enabled drones by flying them over its cellular network and using them to do handoffs between cell sites. The handoffs are being performed between cell sites that are being used simultaneously by mobile phone users.
The Chinese operator is working with Ericsson on the tests, which are being held in Wuxi in China’s Jiangsu province.