Interview with Unmanned Airspace, 18 December 2019.

What do you hope to achieve at the Connected Skies event? What would be a success for GUTMA?
For us, success will mean putting people together who don’t normally meet; talking about new business opportunities and seeing fresh alliances emerge.

If you think about the promise of 5G, how do you see the worlds of mobile telecommunications and unmanned aviation coming together?
It’s a very interesting convergence of industries. It’s data-driven. We’re putting wings on smartphones. The work of mobile network operators, whose core business is to transport data, will converge with the core business of aviation, which so far has been focused on transporting things and people or taking pictures. But these two worlds think very differently, and they’re based on very different business models. In one, the core ingredient is bandwidth while the other is airspace. Seeing the matchmaking between the two mind-sets, the business models and the understanding of how you put one and one together and end up with three is the whole point of this event.

So will visitors who go to Connected Skies come out with a new idea about how these synergies are going to work?
Yes, because there’s a confusion about what 5G is and what it will enable and that is key. Not only will these two industries have to connect on existing and future technologies – and find out what is going to be possible – but I think we also have a responsibility to gain public acceptance and explain in really simple terms what 5G is, how it is going to “make the world a better place”, whether it can save lives, reduce C02 emissions and create new jobs.

Are there any particularly important UTM (unmanned aircraft system traffic management) services that we need to push on with and move the industry forward and in which the mobile telecommunications industry could play a key role?
For the industry to move forward we need to concentrate on beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations and the question is what kind of role will the mobile network operator play in enabling more of these operations. The other issue – which isn’t obvious but is something we will be highlighting and discussing during Connected Skies Barcelona – is what other assets the mobile network operator can offer the drone industry.

For example, if we take telecommunication companies distributed cell tower equipment – can we use these systems for increasing drone navigation accuracy (RTK), detecting GPS jamming/spoofing, as low-level surveillance radars, as local weather stations, providing population density risk-maps, storing and processing drone payload data at the edge, or installing automated drones-in-a-box?

The basic line of connectivity between the operator, the drone and the Internet is an obvious one – but even if mobile communication networks may not always be the best tool for mission critical command and control links, they may have other assets which we don’t currently understand. We need to know what they are and how they can be exploited and how everybody can move up the value chain with value-added services.

Connected Skies Portland (June 2019) was a three-day event which focused on the technology and standards; it was a proof-of-concept event. Connected Skies Barcelona is more about business and discovering what we want to do together and how to make money together. This event is more about proof-of-value and showing what use cases make sense and what the business case behind that use case might be.

We want to develop case studies and publish these so people will learn, replicate and scale them up.