Why Starlink & 5G Affects the Drone Industry

I remember the excitement of my first cell phone. It was the late ‘90s, and I felt like I could almost land the space shuttle with my Nokia 6110.

This wonderful technology suddenly gave me the power to call people from anywhere (sort of) without looking for the nearest payphone. And even though most of my use for the phone was playing the preinstalled Snake game, it was pretty high-tech for the time. 

It’s incredible to thing how far we’ve come from those days.

The 2G network my Nokia connected to was a far cry from the 5G networks of today. Advances in technology continue to make connecting the planet easier every day. Starlink satellites, 5G, and other innovations are bringing the internet to the most remote locations on the planet.

But, it’s not only your cell phone coverage that’s enjoying the fruits of this incredible growth.

It’s a fantastic time to be in the UAV industry, as drones are taking full advantage of these same revolutionary developments. 

The use cases for drones continue to expand. In fact, in many ways, the limitations on UAV uses are more self-imposed than technological limits.

For example, most commercial-level drones can operate far beyond the visual line of sight. However, legal limitations around the world make Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) difficult, if not impossible, to gain approval for

But, following advances including 5G and Starlink, you could soon see many of these restrictions lifted.

As a result, the capabilities of drones can be expanded greatly across the 5G network and through platforms such as Starlink’s internet service. 

Related: Why Drones Are Still an Emerging Technology (click image for article)

5G Speeds Up Information Flow

One of the biggest frustrations of drone pilots is transferring the data collected. Without 5G, most drones must record the information they gather onto standard SD cards. After the mission is complete, pilots must download the files off the SD card and send them to whoever needs them.

Considering some jobs might require hundreds or thousands of pictures & video, and hundreds of GB of data, it can become incredibly time consuming & frustrating.

But, what if you didn’t need to go through all that? 

With 5G, pilots can transmit the data to whoever needs it, in real-time.

How much more productive could you be if all the data collected was in the hands of those who need it before you even land your drone? Or, if you had hired someone to fly over your jobsite, how much quicker could you complete your project if you didn’t need to wait for files to be delivered?

This data transmission speed significantly improves workflows and overall operational efficiency for everyone involved.

5G's Benefits for BVLOS

The majority people in the UAV industry see BVLOS as the next potential giant leap forward for drones.

Without the requirement to keep eyes on your drone, a wide range of applications open up. UAV operations would become more efficient and safer.

Of course, one of the main reasons many people are concerned about BVLOS operations is safety.

The latency between what you see on screen and what your drone is actually doing in real-time can be a problem.

For instance, with 4G, even a latency of just a second or two can mean the drone has traveled several feet before you respond with a course correction. While it might not seem like a lot, it’s still enough space to cause a crash.

With 5G, however, the real-time feed means you can control your drone without fearing a crash caused by latency issues

Blocks of carved wooden letters that spell out drone regulations
Related: What the FAA’s Drone Remote ID Rule Means for You (click for full breakdown)

Starlink’s Benefits to Drones in Remote Locations

Since the first 60 Starlink satellites went into orbit in 2019, SpaceX’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite network has provided high-speed, low-latency broadband internet to remote and rural locations. To date, over 3,000 Starlink satellites now move fast enough to orbit the earth once every 90 minutes.

So, how does this affect drones? 

Well, in some cases, drone pilots in rural areas are already tapping into Starlink’s potential.

For instance, RDARS Inc. builds autonomous drones for use in the security industry. The Ontario-based company announced on November 2, 2022, that it had successfully integrated Starlink into its Eagle Nest Drone-in-a-Box product. This innovative approach allows their drones to work in areas where cellular and other networks are unavailable or unreliable.  

The ongoing war in Ukraine offers us another example. As attacks on infrastructure limited the country’s internet capabilities, Ukrainian forces turned to Starlink. With over 5,000 Starlink terminals in the country, Ukraine has used the network to guide drones toward enemy locations and effectively target Russian tanks and troop positions.

While one hopes that the technology is employed for missions outside of combat, it nevertheless proves the efficacy of Starlink assisting drones in challenging environments.

What the Future Holds in Store

The future of the UAV industry looks bright under the light of 5G and Starlink. With the ability to transmit real-time data, make BVLOS a reality, and empower drones in remote regions, 5G and Starlink are opening a world of opportunities.

And, as technology continues advancing and improving, the possibilities seem endless.

The world is become a more connected place with each passing day, with data exchange happening faster than ever thought possible.

And, there’s little doubt that increases in efficiency will continue, long into the future.

So, how can you make the best of these networks? Should you start your own drone program, or contract your work out to professionals?

At Consortiq, we’ve developed processes for creating successful drone programs for organizations around the world. Whether you’re looking to start an in-house drone program but don’t know where to start, or, if you’d rather hire someone to do the flying for you, we’ve got you covered.

Ready to learn more? Just complete the form below to schedule a risk-free consultation!

Picture of David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

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