British telecom Vodafone Group successfully conducted a trial demonstrating how mobile networks could support long distance drone flights, the company announced recently. The regulated drone services industry is projected to skyrocket in the next 40 years, bringing in 100,000 new jobs by 2050, according to a study by the European Union, and long distance flight capabilities could have a major impact on businesses.

Safe long distance drone flying is a top goal for the European Commission, according to a press release, and businesses are on board with trials too. Between the quick delivery of high-value payloads, checking on critical assets, and rescue missions in dangerous conditions, organizations of all industries could benefit, said the release.

SEE: Machine automation policy guidelines (Tech Pro Research)

Vodafone’s Radio Positioning System (RPS) uses a 4G modem and SIM attached to the drone, which allows a self-learning artificial intelligence (AI) system to determine the position of the device, said the release. This system can detect if a drone has veered off the flight plan, which not only helps keep the device safe, but civilians and facilities as well.

From helping rural farmers monitor crops, to monitoring critical business infrastructure, organizations have been experimenting with drone use cases for years; however, running drones on a 4G mobile network hadn’t been successfully done before. 4G networks have previously been reserved for ground-based users, but the Vodafone trial showed how 4G could monitor drone flights up to 120 meters above ground, said the release.

Additionally, Vodafone was able to identify two drones in close proximity to each other and manage the devices separately, said the release. Moving forward, this functionality could be conducted at a large scale with SIM cards in drones, acting similarly to aircraft transponders, the release added.

“Operator trials such as this one are helpful in developing the regulatory framework that will enable beyond line of sight drone flights in Europe and the creation of a valuable new area of economic activity,” said Yves Morier, principal advisor to the EASA flight standards director, in the release.

Moving forward, Vodafone said it hopes to conduct more phases of the trial that will test geo-fencing, drone tracking with 5G, and the implementation of different authority levels when accessing flight plans and location information, according to the release.

Check out the full results of the trial here.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • Vodafone Group successfully conducted a trial showing how 4G mobile networks could support safe long distance drone travel.
  • Vodafone also plans on testing drone flights with upcoming 5G connectivity to improve the functionality of long distance drone travel.