a week in wireless


A Week in Wireless – Droning on

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The Informer was pleasantly surprised when an article written by one of his colleagues at Telecoms.com went borderline viral this week. Well, as viral as an article about telecoms network testing can get, but a win is a win.

It turns out the article in question cited a subject matter of a particularly emotive nature: drones. The first thought that often comes to mind when one hears the word “drone” is some sort of dehumanised, remote assassination machine, as cheery as that sounds. However, the Informer was left somewhat surprised when one of his colleagues suggested there’s no other use-case for drones than for long-distance war waging.

Beyond the military connotations, drones could (and perhaps should) be more generally regarded as unmanned, remote-controlled flying machines, the application of which could provide considerable benefit to society. Earlier this week, Nokia Networks unveiled its pretty revolutionary project with UAE-based operator du; where little flying machines (let’s call them LFMs) equipped with smartphones were analysing network performance across Dubai.

The Informer considers himself to be a bit of a big kid and loves his techy gadgets, but moving beyond the immediate thought of ‘boys and their toys’ leads one to consider the practical benefits in play here. Dubai, in parts, is a densely populated city and it’s no secret that its climate can reach brutally unforgiving conditions for significant portions of the year. So, in this instance, LFMs are able to head out into 50 degree heat, fly on up to the top of a mast and get busy doing some intelligent figuring-out of networky stuff. The Informer certainly doesn’t relish the thought of even attempting that himself. This LFM can then handily pop information back to a control centre for even more intelligent figuring-out of networky stuff, automatically. That’s a pretty smart thing.

Speaking of smart things, the buzzword of the century so far was inevitably going to crop up, since we’re talking about intelligent machines. The Informer is cognisant of the fact that IoT has been given an awful lot of coverage recently, so we’ll move swiftly on before we get into a full-on IoT rant.

But the example referenced earlier serves to illustrate just one use-case of LFMs, and the potential that exists. Amazon is edging ever closer to realising its dream of automated air delivery systems, although the Informer is seriously tempted to order a ludicrous number of white goods and furniture just to stress-test it.

Facebook, Google et al have publicly announced their, undoubtedly conflicting, aspirations to develop portable floating mesh networks with the aim of providing connectivity to various parts of the disconnected world, with the ability to relocate as necessary, all reliant upon LFMs. A mobile network in every sense.

BT meanwhile published a post this week, which was for some reason subsequently retracted, indulging us on how drones could be used to the advancement of civilisation. “Drones could change the world,” wrote BT’s Matthew Key, and he may well have a point.

Discussion of such an emotive subject, as mentioned earlier, will inevitably face staunch opposition from some quarters. Many consider LFMs to be some sort of Orwellian, all-seeing snitches for our imperial overlords and oppressors – and that may well eventually transpire – but the Informer is pretty sure that the same was said about CCTV at some point.

When researching the matter of drones it amused the Informer to stumble upon a post that led with a line on telcos adopting the use of LFMs, only for it to rapidly digress into a politically motivated rant about military uses-cases, how various corporates are invading privacy and a general air of ill-intent from anyone or anything advocating the use of such little flying machines. The Informer realised that impartiality and a lack of understanding could, in some cases, result in devoted opposition to the implementation of new technology or concepts, even when presented with overwhelming benefit.

What tickled the Informer even more, however, were some of the results of typing “funny drones” into a search engine. The potential for hilarity chucked up by the internet never ceases to amaze; see the how this little flying machine so very nearly captured a beautiful moment…

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