August 22, 2019

The B2B Drone Opportunity for Communications Service Providers

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as drones, currently operate on a variety of radio communications options.

Some are on CSP LTE connections, but the majority are using some sort of proprietary radio communications system provided by the drone manufacturers themselves. As LTE is prone to network congestion problems, propagation issues, data transfer speed issues and inconsistent availability, it has not been an obvious choice for drone connectivity.

Drone manufacturers are waiting for 5G and its associated advanced RAN options, but will it stimulate a boom in the commercial use of UAVs, and what is the opportunity for CSPs? Netcracker recently featured its 5G network using network slicing and drone scenario around the Tour De France at Digital Transformation World in Nice, France and won the Outstanding Catalyst Communications Award for its vision and functionality. Let’s take a look at why the scenario is so interesting and how it can help drive new revenue for CSPs.

The Dedicated Network Slice for Drone Connectivity and QoS Management

The main connectivity characteristics that UAVs need are:

  • Constant, undisrupted connection
  • High data throughput
  • Low latency
  • Large geographical footprint
  • Penetrative propagation characteristics

Under 5G, all of the above characteristics can be provided over a network slice, with guaranteed minimum thresholds. This ensures that in the event of a congested network, a high priority connection to a drone will not be adversely affected. When drones are communicating with the cloud for guidance, telemetry and other flight-related functions, an ultra-low latency, secure network is essential. Through network slicing, 5G will be able to provide stronger security, allowing data to be transferred more quickly and making it harder for cyber-attacks to disrupt drone activities.

Monetizing the Commercial Drone Market

As with anything in the digital transformation discussion, there is a whole universe of new digital value chains in which CSPs can participate, and it is possible that MNOs can develop a strategy for the drone markets. But it is also possible that they will become a simple radio link. MNOs need to build a service package that goes beyond connectivity and adds operational value using the programmable nature of their new virtualized hybrid core networks in combination with advanced RAN capabilities out to the drone itself.

For example, 5G will enable device-to-device communication between drones to avoid collisions or fly in a configuration that will reduce drag and conserve fuel. By using consolidated data for fleets of drones, quickly processing live data at the network edge, MNOs can become the safety arbiter for whole swarms. In this setting, the MNO takes a much more prominent role in the value chain, using assets that it already has as part of its digital operations platform.

The core OSS/BSS functions for effective drone management must include a centralized service catalog and service orchestration layer that allow for comprehensive management of complex hybrid, cross-domain network functions. This must also be aligned automatically with the appropriate network slice that is mapped to business specific SLA characteristics. Cloud computing functions at the network edge for drone-specific tailored functionality will need to apply AI/ML-based analytics to the data generated by the device array to optimize network characteristics and ensure that all interactions with the enterprise and/or the UAV manufacturer’s own network are accurate and effective.

While all of these functions in this scenario are fine-tuned to operate a drone fleet, they are in fact common aspects needed for thousands of digital service opportunities in other industry verticals as well.

The MNO Path Forward

Service-centric agility is at the core of being able to enter unknown markets like the commercial drone space and command a high revenue role. Being able to provide the technological pieces to drive growth in the B2B drone market isn’t the issue here; it is the ability to quickly and convincingly launch a best-in-class service bundle that will make CSPs successful in the new world of drones.

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