Nokia and Rohde & Schwarz announced that the Nokia Drone Networks solution has been certified by the FCC, marking the agency’s first full certification of a native 4G/5G drone-in-a-box solution.

The solution is designed to be a shareable data collection platform for multiple purposes, including public safety, according to Thomas Eder, head of Embedded Wireless Solutions at Nokia.

Similar to a “ride share” for cars, industrial users will be able to book a Nokia Drone Networks flight for data collection in the future that will help to improve operational efficiency, worker safety or other key performance indicators (KPIs) that are relevant for enterprises today, he told Fierce.

Earlier this year, Nokia announced it was the first to offer a CE-certified, turnkey drone-in-a-box solution meeting the safety requirements of the European Union.

Out of the box, so to speak, the drone is designed to operate using 4G and 5G cellular networks natively.

Unlike drones and systems that have been approved so far that use other forms of communications protocols – predominantly Wi-Fi or some other “add-on” modules to enable cellular connectivity – the Nokia drone with native 4G/5G connectivity can leverage the wider coverage and higher data throughput of cellular networks for control and data transmission, Eder said. It also comes “by default” with the integrated connectivity.

Nokia’s drone solution has been in the works for years. The first feasibility studies on LTE connected unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) started around 2015, followed by pre-commercial projects and research activities in 2017, he said.

A version already is being used by Belgian telecom operator Citymesh to speed emergency response efforts. The deployment there calls for drones to be strategically placed for the purpose of quickly gathering information when there’s an emergency call. This way, first responder teams can be apprised of situations before they enter an area.

In the U.S., the prime use cases involve public safety, including police and firefighters. Other use cases involve powerline inspection, agriculture, perimeter security, ports and oil & gas.  

In contrast to other types of drone certifications, the FCC certification process focused on the drone’s ability to use cellular networks safely and reliably for communication, Eder said. That includes ensuring that the drone does not cause harmful interference to the cellular network and that it meets all the safety and operational guidelines set forth by the FCC.

The term “full certification” implies what Nokia has done differently here, Eder said. It means that the FCC has reviewed and approved the entire system – all hardware components – for compliance with its standards. The “full stack” refers to the drone, parachute, payload (HD + video camera), battery, connectivity and docking station/box.

A large set of 3GPP spectrum bands and global 4G/5G spectrum options are supported, he said.

“The use of 3GPP spectrum for drones is a topic that is being heavily discussed in many regions and we are ready to support customers and regulators with the right frequency selections,” he said. “The CE and FCC type approval activities Nokia conducts for its BVLOS solution are setting new quality standards and will help spectrum regulators to enable access to industrial drones with more confidence and less concerns.”

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