Qualcomm, AT&T to test how drones can use 4G LTE networks

Qualcomm said its researchers will team up with AT&T to test how unmanned aircraft systems can utilize cellular networks for processing, navigation, and flying beyond line of sight.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Qualcomm said that it will partner with AT&T to trial drone flights using cellular networks.

The mobile chip maker said that its Qualcomm Technologies subsidiary will analyze how unmanned aircraft systems can use commercial 4G LTE networks. Trials with AT&T will look at coverage, signal strength, and use cases across cellular networks.

According to Qualcomm, research teams will investigate how cellular networks can enable drones to fly beyond visual line of sight. For instance, inspections, delivery systems, and other use cases will need flying drones to operate beyond line of sight.

Drone trials will be based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon Flight development platform. Snapdragon Flight is being used in drones for processing, visual navigation, and localization.

Qualcomm flight is an integrated board that's smaller than a credit card and aimed at robotics and drone projects. The board runs on the Snapdragon 801 processor and has connectivity and software and development tools. Here's a look at the board and how it fits into a drone module.


For AT&T and other wireless carriers, the research in LTE-meets-drone use cases could be handy. The smartphone market is saturated and carriers are battling to poach customers from each other. The Internet of Things and connected sensors are a growth market for wireless carriers, but drones would likely use more data in the field.

Another goal of the Qualcomm-AT&T collaboration is to see how regulations and specifications for 5G should work with drones.

The trials will occur at Qualcomm's San Diego campus and its drone testing center. AT&T's network will be tested without affecting day-to-day services.

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