Huawei, the China-based maker of smartwatches, tablets, smartphones and broadband networks, has put a new focus on its digital sky initiative. The new push aims to “enable the low airspace digitized economy via enhanced low airspace network coverage,” according to the company.

Because Huawei believes connecting drones to the internet will help unleash greater potential for the unmanned aircraft systems, the company has commenced on a three-step plan to help create a broadband system for low flying drones that can also fly beyond visual line of sight. In the next two years, stage one of the plan will set-up connected drone application demo sites. The first stage of the plan will also help to promote standardization of cellular-network-based management. In 2019 and 2020, phase two of the digital sky initiative will bring more field tests and some commercial activity. And, after 2020, phase three will bring low altitude coverage to roughly 30 percent of all airspace, Huawei believes.

In October, Huawei worked to bring stakeholders together for the drone efforts. In addition to a wireless lab, the company also created a digital sky hub in Shanghai. The goal of the hub is to encourage joint efforts to enable drone application demo sites. Next year, Huawei said it will set-up demo sites in Europe, Canada, Korea and other locations. The U.S. was not named as a demo location.

In addition to first response efforts, Huawei believes its digital sky efforts will help bring drone-passenger vehicles into reality more quickly. “The combination of drones and cellular networks will redefine the airspace, transforming the way we travel, shop and create,” said Zhou Yefeng, chief marketing officer for Huawei’s wireless network product line. “However, all current base stations are designed to serve humans and objects on the ground. Low airspace drones are supported by reflected signals and side lobe coverage,” adding that, “as a result, drones presently face severe signal interference challenges. The current network can only support a limited number of drone applications where aircraft fly below 120 m (393 feet).”

Through a partnership with the University of Edinburgh, Huawei has formed a research cooperation agreement to investigate the potential for robotic systems operating in 5G wireless networks. 

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