Feeds

US clears the air for flying drones

Remote controlled metal needs radio

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

Remotely controlled aircraft need frequencies in which to operate - and quite a lot of them, if the latest US submission to the World Radiocommunications Conference is to be believed.

While the military might play fast and loose with unmanned aerial vehicles - to the point of crashing one or two - civilians tend to be more risk-averse. If we're really going to see more than 5,000 remotely-controlled lumps of metal in the air over the next ten years, they're going to need spectrum in which to operate - and rather more than the 8MHz that Ofcom has suggested might be available.

The next World Radiocommunications Conference isn't until January 2012, but the debates have already started and the FCC has been busy pushing its 32 proposals (pdf) for a better radio future, including a couple asking for more radio frequencies to be allocated for UAV use.

The Teal Group reckons there'll be 5,500 civilian robots flying around the USA by 2018, though most of those will be government-owned with commercial companies moving into the business and putting a lot more robots into the air, around 2020.

Right now, civilian drones can't share airspace with those containing fleshy bits, but that's going to have to change if the expected number of robots take to the air - and if the robots are going to share airspace then the radio frequencies used become very important. The wrong kind of interference does a lot worse than drop a phone call.

Civilian UAVs come in two types: those controlled by line-of-sight radio connections, and those using relayed signals from low-earth-orbit satellites. Mark Lewellen, chair of the ITU-R working party sub-group on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (as they are formally known), told PolicyTracker that studies estimate line-of-sight requirements at 34MHz, with bird-bouncing signals consuming another 49MHz of bandwidth.

That allows for decent safety margins, though UK regulator Ofcom has suggested that two blocks of 4MHz (at 872 and 917MHz) might be suitable for unmanned flying vehicles. We assume Ofcom is referring to small-scale robots rather than anything capable of downing a jet liner.

The key requests from America are for the bands 112-117.975MHz, 960-1164MHz, and 5000-5030MHz be allocated to line-of-sight operations, with 37-38GHz getting legislated protection from interference for satellite-based systems.

The Conference is still more than two years away, so don't expect anything to happen soon: Mark's sub-group is still working on draft documents for presentation at one of the many preparatory meetings already taking place in Geneva ahead of the conference, but if robots are going to come off the battlefield and into commercial use then we'll all be grateful for internationally cleared spectrum in which they can operate. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
6 Obvious Reasons Why Facebook Will Ban This Article (Thank God)
Clampdown on clickbait ... and El Reg is OK with this
So, Apple won't sell cheap kit? Prepare the iOS garden wall WRECKING BALL
It can throw the low cost race if it looks to the cloud
EE fails to apologise for HUGE T-Mobile outage that hit Brits on Friday
Customer: 'Please change your name to occasionally somewhere'
Time Warner Cable customers SQUEAL as US network goes offline
A rude awakening: North Americans greeted with outage drama
We need less U.S. in our WWW – Euro digital chief Steelie Neelie
EC moves to shift status quo at Internet Governance Forum
BT customers face broadband and landline price hikes
Poor punters won't be affected, telecoms giant claims
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.