OneSky Exploring Urban Cellular/LTE Coverage for UAS

It’s hard not to be excited at the thought of one day having deliveries being made by drone.  We see the testing of conceptual systems even today where packages, mail, medical supplies, and even burritos are being delivered with drones, and we hope this drone-enabled future isn’t too far away, but the concept of small UAS making their way around our cities autonomously delivering items will rely critically on communication.

Currently the command, control, and data exchange between a UAS and the pilot in charge is accomplished via direct RF communication.  The limitation in this scenario is the ability of the pilot to maintain communication with the aircraft at longer distances and in more challenging environments, such as urban landscapes with dense buildings.

An obvious solution to this could be relying on cellular networks.  With networks boasting coverage areas across a majority of the country, it would perhaps make sense to allow drones to communicate across them, breaking the tether of a direct point-to-point communication link.  This could enable autonomous flights to be monitored and controlled from longer distances well beyond line of sight, which of course is the current restriction.

OneSky has begun using their existing modeling and simulation capabilities to look into this issue a bit deeper.   The unique aspect here is the ability to model urban environments such as buildings and terrain, and look at RF communication system capabilities within these environments.

In the example below, is downtown Nashville, TN with only two cellular towers being modeled.  You can see the difference in expected received signal strengths between the first analysis being done at roughly ground level height, and the second being done at 200 ft above ground level.  It is easy to see the impact that these buildings have on the RF signal’s ability to propagate throughout the area.


Received Signal Strength – Ground Level


Received Signal Strength – 200 ft. AGL


Cellular Link Statistics Along Drone Route Through Urban Environment

This provides an amazing capability for urban route planning, and new safety of flight measurements for those eventual BVLOS flights.  Being able to predict areas and altitudes where signals may be degraded, will bring critical value to flight planners and operational systems responsible for routing flights safely through these types of environments.

OneSky will continue to explore these capabilities and we look forward to bringing these types of flight plan safety tools to the UAS market!

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