The logistics industry is welcoming a new age of “big aviation” and “unmanned” and “intelligent” are two key words that will ultimately help realize the future of logistics as the industry strives to make technology breakthroughs. Logistics drones not only have the potential to slash distribution costs, but also boost efficiency and resolve delivery issues in remote areas. Meanwhile, the rise of logistics drones sets out to define a new list of communication requirements. These include drone security status monitoring, real-time location and availability status monitoring, and beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) control. In the future, the mobile communications network will extend its coverage from the ground to low-altitude airspace. Such an extension will suit the needs of connected drones, enabling various applications ranging from real-time drone management to safe flying and logistics surveys. Low-altitude airspace coverage will also contribute to better airspace utilization for a generation of huge potential economic value.
The three companies will pool their respective resources for delivering joint innovation. China Mobile Sichuan will build the world’s first cellular test network for regional logistics drones. Huawei will provide advanced mobile communication technologies for the network to ensure low-altitude airspace coverage and network performance. Fonair Aviation intends to provide the drone equipment and application scenarios. The three will then study logistics drones’ requirements on cellular communication. This will include cooperation in testing drone status monitoring, data backhaul, BVLOS control, and various other drone services, as well as the completion of several end-to-end technical verifications.
Network connection is a primary requirement for drone communication. The line-of-sight (LOS) communication mode, which has been adopted by most current drones, falls short of the application requirements of long-distance regional logistics drones. Moreover, the present satellite communication system is impractical for logistics drones as it suffers from long latency and high cost. Mobile communication networks on the other hand can use existing massive amounts of site resources to provide drones with three-dimensional (3D) coverage. In addition, 5G is set to enable a significant leap in a connected drones’ application. The improved bandwidth of 5G networks promises to enhance transmission of information while 5G ultra-low latency ensures more precise drone control.
Liao Jian, deputy general manager of China Mobile Sichuan, commented at the signing ceremony: “This tripartite cooperation on constructing a 3D cellular test network for regional logistics drones shows how cellular communication technologies can benefit drones and the general aviation industry. More importantly, it represents an important step in win-win collaboration. The innovation in 5G will generate huge potential opportunities for industry upgrades. China Mobile Sichuan will seize these opportunities and adapt to the development of industries and applications to extend its business boundaries.”
“Express delivery of business mail has always been at the heart of SF Express’ services,” said Yang Jun, CEO of Fonair Aviation. Better aviation, including developments in regional aviation, is essential for helping SF Express achieve the goal of speedy, secure, and stable delivery. Regional logistics drones can provide the timely distribution of valuable agricultural products, medicines, and business mail to remote areas. Thanks to these drones, convenient and efficient logistics and shipping for hard-to-access areas will soon become a reality. Fonair Aviation joins hands with China Mobile Sichuan and Huawei to use 5G networks for regional aviation logistics and help to boost logistics operation efficiency. These combined aspects will significantly contribute to usher in another second giant leap for the logistics industry in terms of speed.”
“Huawei Wireless X Labs released its digital sky initiative in November 2017,” said Yang Weimin, President of Huawei Wireless R&D. “The purpose was to provide network coverage for low-altitude airspace, spur development of drone applications, and enable low airspace digital economy via technical research and innovation. This collaboration is a critical project for the digital sky initiative. It also marks an essential step in applying mobile communication technologies for the aviation industry. Huawei as always will endeavor to make this cooperation a success.”
China boasts world-leading communication technologies, the most well-developed drone industry, and the largest logistics market. China Mobile Sichuan, Fonair Aviation, and Huawei will draw on their own strengths and collaborate on the demonstration of cellular-empowered drone communication. Such collaborative efforts will lead the innovation and development of the entire logistics industry.