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Virgin Media O2 UK Trials Emergency 5G Mobile from Drones

Thursday, Oct 27th, 2022 (2:01 pm) - Score 3,360

Broadband ISP and mobile operator Virgin Media and O2 (VMO2) has teamed up with the Snowdonia Aerospace Centre in Wales to trial 4G and 5G connected drones, which in an emergency could be deployed to help create a temporary airborne mobile network for both visitors and emergency services (Mountain Rescue).

The trials are exploring how connectivity can provide key support to emergency services, so they can respond more quickly, more decisively and more efficiently to hikers stranded within the remote Snowdonia National Park, as well as cutting costs and being more environmentally friendly. In rural areas, such as this, emergency services are reliant on receiving 999 calls, but mobile reception can easily be interrupted by the extreme geographical landscape.

The drone itself is a “Dragon Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) that has been equipped to support a standalone airborne 5G NR (New Radio) network. The network it creates will be able to tackle more than just calls (e.g. mobile broadband, video calling and pictures etc.) and will also retain geographical location data for calls, which can be used to both guide people back to safety and to guide rescue teams to those in need.

The project, which is being funded by investment from the Innovate UK Future Flight Challenge and a Department for Transport Drone Technology Research and Innovation Grant, is supported by VMO2, Snowdonia Aerospace, SwiftFlight Avionics, Wavemobile, and the Welsh Government.

Kirsty Bright, VMO2’s Director of Network Innovation and Transformation, said:

“This project is a further example of how 5G technologies can provide real societal benefits for people around the UK, wherever they are. This trial could transform how emergency services operate and react to life-threatening situations, and make people feel safer while enjoying national parks. We’ve already run our first successful test flights at the Llanbedr airport with the Snowdonia Aerospace team and look forward to demonstrating how it can support mountain rescue teams across Snowdonia. Trials like this are all part of our wider commitment to upgrading the UK and showing the power of 5G connectivity.”

We should point out that VMO2 aren’t the only mobile operator to put mini base stations on the bottom of a drone. EE has long used a similar approach when setting up temporary mobile networks via their Rapid Response Vehicles (RRV) programme, although their drones are smaller, can’t fly as high (limited coverage) and may be more susceptible to stronger weather.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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9 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Jon says:

    The last network I’d want to trust with making a call to save my life is O2, it would probably drop out

    1. Avatar photo Matt says:

      in fairness to slOw2 they’re normally pretty good for voice calls and SMS.

      it’s data they suck at.

  2. Avatar photo Jimmy says:

    Could just roll out the network to places people go…

    1. Avatar photo AQX says:

      If you read the article it’s mostly for things like Mountain Rescue. Evidently people go up mountains.

  3. Avatar photo Nick Roberts says:

    What a novel approach to the dual issues of Global Warming and Air Travel by ol’ beardy, . . Miniaturise the passengers at the point of departure and then re-size them on arrival -me thinks his knibs has been watching too many 1960s sci- fi films.

  4. Avatar photo Roger Leitch says:

    Could do with loads of these drones as their masts around here have no usable capacity.

    You can literally be looking at a mast and have zero connectivity because of lack of capacity.

    Local mast currently goes faulty every week.

    Second sim on another network is essential with O2 if you want to use your phone.
    Wish I had not ported my number to them.

  5. Avatar photo Anuraj says:

    Very good network for voice and text. Useless for data. Some time can’t even send iMessage or google map.

    EE is very good for data and vodafone good for both data and voice calls.

    1. Avatar photo Bubbles says:

      might add that Three is the best imo for call quality these days. If you’re in a Three 5G area too very good for data.

    2. Avatar photo Nick Roberts says:

      Good 5G signal on Three in Harrow . . . i wish

      Only the little Prime Ministers yet to be, residing school side, on the top of the Hill, can get any 5g on Three.

      The rest of us, at lower altitudes (In all senses ?) . . Go fish.

Comments are closed

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