Uber and AT&T testing 5G for flying cars

If air taxis and cargo drones are going to become commonplace in the future, network reliability had better be impeccable.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

AT&T and Uber are teaming up to figure out how wireless networks will play a role in next-gen electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles (eVTOLS), as well as enterprise drones used for cargo transport. In particular, the companies are exploring how LTE and eventually, 5G will be used in both applications.

"We're in the very earliest stages of seeing what 5G can do to augment next-generation air travel, but we're excited for the possibilities," according to Andre Fuetsch, president, AT&T Labs, and chief technology officer. "Ridesharing services were one of the defining mobile applications of the 4G era. Air taxis and other new air vehicles could well eventually become a signature use case for 5G."

The partnership supports the efforts of Elevate, Uber's air mobility unit. The multi-phase collaboration is testing ways that operational systems communications networks can enhance safety and reliability for aerial ridesharing and cargo delivery. One problem that currently exists in the conversation about eVTOLS is that wireless networks are not built to extend very high into the sky, as anyone who's flaunted FAA regulations and tried to eke out the last seconds of service in an airplane can attest.

"AT&T has already made important strides in pioneering connectivity capabilities above 500 feet in urban settings,"  said Dr. Tom Prevot, Director of Engineering for Airspace Systems at Uber, "and we look forward to working with them on the next generation of breakthroughs."

The first phase of the collaboration will focus on the nuts and bolts of keeping piloted aircraft connected to 4G and 5G networks at low altitudes and determine existing boundaries. According to AT&T, future phases could include edge computing and network slicing projects to enable dedicated and reliable connectivity further.

AT&T expects to have a nationwide 5G sub-6Ghz service in the first half- 2020. Uber is looking to launch its aerial ridesharing service in 2023 with commercial flight operations in Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles and an international city to-be-announced at Uber Elevate Summit 2019.

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