China Mobile is testing 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 5G drone trial is just one part of a bigger China National Key 5G Project that started at the beginning of the year and is focused on user-centric 5G network architecture. One of the key goals of the project is to figure out ways to reduce latency for mission-critical applications like emergency services.
Interestingly, China Mobile is using the drones close to the radio edge, which lets the operator dynamically deploy part of the network through a distributed cloud architecture to reduce latency.
But China Mobile isn’t the only operator contemplating using drones as part of its wireless network. AT&T is also testing drones outfitted with LTE modules and using them for industrial Internet of Things (IoT) applications like monitoring farmland or checking damage to homes and buildings after a hailstorm.
The wireless carrier is also using drones to inspect its cell sites. The tower trial, which is expected to roll out commercially in September, uses drones outfitted with video cameras and connected to the LTE network to stream live video feeds of the site to the network operations manager.