Feeds

US clears the air for flying drones

Remote controlled metal needs radio

Boost IT visibility and business value

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. ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
UK fuzz want PINCODES on ALL mobile phones
Met Police calls for mandatory passwords on all new mobes
Canadian ISP Shaw falls over with 'routing' sickness
How sure are you of cloud computing now?
Don't call it throttling: Ericsson 'priority' tech gives users their own slice of spectrum
Actually it's a nifty trick - at least you'll pay for what you get
Three floats Jolla in Hong Kong: Says Sailfish is '3rd option'
Network throws hat into ring with Linux-powered handsets
Fifteen zero days found in hacker router comp romp
Four routers rooted in SOHOpelessly Broken challenge
New Sprint CEO says he will lower axe on staff – but prices come first
'Very disruptive' new rates to be revealed next week
PwC says US biz lagging in Internet of Things
Grass is greener in Asia, say the sensors
Ofcom sees RISE OF THE MACHINE-to-machine cell comms
Study spots 9% growth in IoT m2m mobile data connections
O2 vs Vodafone: Mobe firms grab for GCHQ, gov.uk security badge
No, the spooks love US best, say rival firms
Ancient pager tech SMS: It works, it's fab, but wow, get a load of that incoming SPAM
Networks' main issue: they don't know how it works, says expert
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
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.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.