Why are we doing Connected Skies? Why is it important to bring the worlds of UAS traffic management (UTM) and telecommunications together?

It’s very close to my heart because I come from both a telecom and an aviation background, so I’m one of those rare breeds who has played in both spaces and it helps to have been involved the evolution of UTM since its inception. The basic paradigm in UTM is a connected network and connectivity comes from a de facto standard.

As we know, there are different types of connectivity networks – satellite, cellular, etc.  The most affordable and quickest network available out is the cellular network. You don’t have universal cellular coverage all across the globe but in the majority of areas such as dense urban city centers where you will need to track drones, you will have coverage.

Telecommunications companies are driving this process because carriers like Verizon and Vodafone want to increase the average revenue per user (ARPU); it’s what they thrive on – it’s about how many subscriptions they can sell.

But to be able to sell those subscriptions the service needs to meet the requirements of the UTM infrastructure. This event is important because we can bring the stakeholders together. We want the UTM services providers to say: “These are the kind of requirements I need to offer the service I am planning,” and the telecommunications companies can respond: “OK, this is the kind of service I need to offer to my enterprise customers”. They will then be able to turn to technology vendors like Ericsson, Nokia Siemens and Huwawei and say:” This is what our infrastructure needs to do, this is what the standards need to do.” We need to create this ripple effect.

What are you doing in your operation which will require this level of connectivity?

If you leave aside all the marketing it’s not as though currently there are 10,000 operations in the sky at the same time in one city. There’s a limited number of simultaneous operations. Yes, we have deployments and people are tracking their drones, but nowhere is it mandated yet that you need to have consistent conformance monitoring.

Deployments like LAANC in the US or Digital Sky UTM in India need you to have a flight plan filed, have it approved, but you are not required to track the flight. Connectivity really becomes important when I’m doing live tracking – and that is phase two of the industry’s development which is going to come on line in different parts of the globe over the next couple of years hopefully.

What are we going to do in five years’ time which we don’t do now?

If I take the overall market, 5g will mean we can create a heterogeneous network, which is a combination of different technologies providing connectivity working together. It’s simplistic but that’s what it is. Right now you’ll see certain countries that have more ubiquitous coverage than others. With better connectivity it’s going to be “access-agnostic” – it doesn’t matter if the connectivity is via satellite link or a cellular network or a WIFI mesh network, I will always have a way to reach back to the network of the UTM provider.

What would you want to see come out of the next Connected Skies event?

This will be an educational and outreach event, to inform and educate all stakeholders so we can all come together to work towards a common objective. If we don’t do that the industry is in danger of becoming fragmented.

For more information on GUTMA’s Connected Skies webinars visit: https://gutma.org/cs-webinars-2020/