Drones in cellular networks

A new project investigates the integration of unmanned aerial vehicles in 5G networks and proposes a hybrid connectivity solution with Wi-Fi. The work is led by Aymen Fakhreddine and advised by Christian Bettstetter. Funding comes from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).

Written by Christian Bettstetter and Aymen Fakhreddine

Wireless connectivity is a fundamental component in drone systems with high demands for reliability, security, and performance. Some drone applications need to transmit huge amounts of data or require ultra-low latencies. The wireless technology used in most commercial drones is Wi-Fi, but it only partially meets the high requirements. Therefore, integrating drones into cellular networks is an exciting option, either as a replacement or supplement to Wi-Fi. A new three-year research project at the University of Klagenfurt addresses this issue. Funding was secured from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) in the amount of about 288,000 € from the ESPRIT postdoctoral program. The work is embedded into many ongoing activities on multi-drone systems in Klagenfurt (

“The integration of drones into cellular networks has not yet reached the desired maturity. These networks were certainly not developed and deployed to be used by flying devices. There are multiple problems related to interference and handovers,” project leader Aymen Fakhreddine explains. Along these lines, the goal is “to ensure that, when connected to cellular networks, drones support data transmissions at very high data rates in the uplink, while the downlink connectivity remains highly reliable for remote control and steering.” This integration of aerial users into cellular networks should not impair ground users for which cellular networks were primarily deployed.

A particular project focus is on enabling beyond visual line of sight drone operations. Drone manoeuvres are to be controlled in real time by means of command data sent via 5G from a processing entity or a human operator that receives a video stream from the drone itself. Another key objective is investigating drone-to-drone communication for applications that require multi-drone systems. This communication can be performed through the cellular network or by bypassing the ground infrastructure via direct communication technologies such as Wi-Fi. Both approaches differ in terms of the provided coverage area, adaptability, security, reliability, and support of real-time functions. The project will discuss the applicability domains of each approach to design a hybrid use of both by proposing a mechanism that opportunistically chooses the suitable wireless technology in concordance with drone mission planning requirements.

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This post is based on the public relations (PR) abstract of the project proposal. Funding is received from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), grant ESP 54 ESPRIT program. Feature image from Google Maps, modified with the locations of base stations and a drone flight route.