Ericsson’s US subsidiary is trialling a 5G mmWave-powered drone for automated inventory inspections and video-based industrial sensing. Ultra-short millimetre radio waves from 24-100 GHz offer greater bandwidth than conventional wavelengths such as 800 MHz, typically reaching 1 Gbps under optimal conditions.

While major operators Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile have embraced mmWave to some degree, enterprise deployments in the continental US are fairly uncommon. The drawbacks in an industrial scenario are quite prohibitive. For one, mmWave frequencies do not travel far and cannot penetrate objects easily. That could make designing an enterprise mmWave factory too costly, and guaranteed service levels too difficult.

But Ericsson believes inventory management in warehouses could be an early commercial use case for mmWave-powered drones in industrial plants. Its proof-of-concept incorporates a drone from supplier Dronus connected via Ericsson’s existing end-to-end private 5G systems. The drone is powered by Qualcomm’s  QRB5165 processor and an integrated 5G mmWave radio from Telit Cinterion.

The proof-of-concept is set up in Ericsson USA’s 5G Smart Factory in Lewisville, Texas, which doubles as a demonstration lab for smart manufacturing powered by the vendor’s own on-premises 5G network.

At present, the 5G-operated drone is a testbed and nothing more. However Ericsson still believes it sends a signal to industry 4.0 businesses that mmWave-powered 5G devices are stage ready. It is suggested industry sector clients currently grappling with Wi-Fi gateways and hotspots in video-based use cases would embrace private cellular capable of similar performance levels.

Telit Cinterion’s FN980m mmWave M.2 data card was used for the proof-of-concept in tandem with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X55 5G Modem-RF System.

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