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O2 UK Trial 5G from Drones with Warwickshire Search and Rescue

Wednesday, Dec 13th, 2023 (2:28 pm) - Score 1,480

Mobile network operator O2 (VMO2), specifically their Technical Trials team, has built a new 5G connected mobile base station that is tiny enough to be flown on a hand lifted drone (pictured), which is currently being trialled with Warwickshire Search and Rescue to help tackle issues of poor signal coverage in isolated rural areas.

The Warwickshire Search and Rescue team is a 24/7 volunteer force that was set up to assist the police in searching for vulnerable missing people. But one of the problems they’ve encountered is with the lack of reliable communications when working in the most remote areas, which aren’t always served by traditional mobile networks.

The solution that VMO2 has adopted to this is to shrink a mobile basic station down to a size that is small enough to be flown on a portable drone, while the backhaul (data) capacity for this setup is then provided using a network of broadband satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Curiously, the announcement makes no mention of which LEO network is involved, but we suspect it’ll either be OneWeb or Starlink.

The setup allows the rescue team to access essential information, communicate with one another, assess situations at speed and “easily locate and save those in danger“.

David Owens, Head of Technical Trials at VMO2, said:

“This project is a further example of how fresh-thinking and 5G technologies can be combined to provide real societal benefits. The solution has the potential to transform how search and rescue teams operate and respond to life-threatening situations, enabling them to make faster and more decisive decisions. We’re enormously proud that our connectivity will be able to help these teams to save lives.”

We couldn’t see any obvious satellite terminal on the drone itself (this would normally be quite big, flat and heavy for a drone of that size), which leads us to suspect that the satellite connectivity is probably being received on the ground (e.g. terminal on the roof of a van) and then relayed up toward the drone to support a 5G signal. Sadly, no technical details were released, so we can only speculate, but it’s still an impressive trial.

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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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7 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Matt says:

    That is cool. Are VMO2 going to deploy millions of these to replace their crumbling mobile network?

    “the lack of reliable communications when working in the most remote areas”
    I didn’t realise that most the UK was so remote … I couldn’t resist 😛

  2. Avatar photo Jim says:

    Explains why their network is so bad if they’re wasting time and money on pointless stuff like this.

    1. Avatar photo Sam P says:

      Why is it O2 always doing stuff like this?

      It really does take the mick when their network really is absolute garbage.

    2. Avatar photo RightSaidFred says:

      This is the kind of innovative thinking that does have an impact on some people’s lives. Not sure why you’d think that the low amount of money spent on these trials would in any way impact their national service levels.

      Some people will just whine at anything.

    3. Avatar photo Sam P says:

      Yeah I just enjoy whining at anything I can, you got that absolutely bang on. Congrats.

  3. Avatar photo Jon says:

    Maybe this will help them get above 40% train coverage, they can send a drone to follow each train

  4. Avatar photo Richard Branston says:

    A simpler solution would be for the Warwickshire Search and Rescue team to move to a network that has better coverage to begin with. And where are the “remote areas” in Warwickshire? Or just use dual SIM devices and two network providers.

    This smacks of a solution looking for a problem that’s not real.

Comments are closed

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