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Ofcom wants new spectrum licences for drones

UK comms regulator Ofcom is proposing a new license for commercial drone operators following trials that include drone delivered post by the Royal Mail.

Ofcom currently allows drones to use airwaves designated for model aircraft or wi-fi without a licence, but this won’t cut the mustard for commercial drones doing longer and more complex trips, it seems, so new spectrum licences that allow operators to use mobile and satellite networks are being proposed.

The comms regulator has backed recent trials to test out new types of wireless equipment on drones, including ‘postal drone routes’ from the Royal Mail which can make deliveries to remote communities, and the delivery of medical supplies between Southampton Hospital and St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight. Declaring itself satisfied, it is now proposing to authorise ‘a range of technologies to support drone use which is not currently permitted today.’

The Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Operator Radio licence would authorise licensed operators to use tech on their UAS/drone fleet that are not currently permitted today, such as mobile and satellite terminals for control and transmission of data and video, and safety equipment to enable the UAS to avoid collisions with aircraft. The CAA and the Government is now apparently developing a framework for how commercial drones can be integrated into UK airspace.

“Commercial drones have the potential to bring a whole host of benefits, such as delivering vital supplies or assisting search and rescue operations in remote locations,” said Helen Hearn, Ofcom’s Spectrum Interim Group Director. “We want to ensure that businesses pioneering these projects can access the spectrum they need to harness the full potential of the latest drone technology.”

A consultation on the proposals is open until September 5th 2022, and the decisions, presumably involving exact details of dedicated spectrum and how to go about applying, will be published in November. Ofcom states that ‘Our proposed licence would not replace the current licence exemption regime for low power 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz equipment which most drones on the market currently fall under today.’

The move would seem to widen the potential of drones to be used in interesting ways in various commercial, industrial and potentially life-saving medical settings, elevating their status somewhat from how they are often perceived; as airport nuisances, photography gimmicks, and tools for peeping toms.

Getting all this off the ground, so to speak, will presumably be one of the first things on the plate of David Willis, who has just been appointed to oversee Ofcom’s Spectrum Group.

“David will bring a wealth of technology experience and an international outlook to the role of Group Director,” said Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s Chief Executive. I’m very much looking forward to working with him.”

 

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