China Unicom (中国联通), one of the country’s three biggest telecom operators, said recently that its drone-mounted airborne base station has been ready for deployment after a year of research, making it possible for users to stay connected even in cases of emergency.
In a statement released on February 22, China Unicom said the technological breakthrough came about in Anyang, a city in central China’s Henan Province, following collaborations between its research institute and the carrier’s Henan and Beijing subsidiaries.
The airborne base station consists of a long-range, customized medium-sized drone, a mobile base station and a backhaul link.
The drone can reach a target area within a short period of time, hover mid-air and provide much-needed internet connection services to areas stricken by natural disasters, in cases of emergency, or to remote regions with no access to telecom networks.
China Unicom said its system is highly flexible and responsive.
With a take-off weight of 150 kg, the drone can withstand gales (force seven), stand still in mid-air at 500 to 2,000 meters, carry up to 50 kg of equipment and remain airborne for a maximum eight hours.
Combining 4G and 5G telecom modules, the airborne base station has a coverage area of 100 square kilometers, allowing a download speed of 10Mbps per user and an average upload speed of 1Mbps. It also supports 10,000 voice calls at once.
The backhaul link leverages an air-to-ground microwave communication system or a satellite transmission system to power downloads of 100Mbps and uploads of 5Mbps. The backhaul distance is 10 km and longer.
In addition to undertaking emergency telecom-related tasks, the drone also is able to conduct intelligent inspections over a range of 600-800 km, sending back real-time visual flight data and identifying targets promptly.
China Unicom said its system, after repeated tests, demonstrates attributes such as wide signal coverage, stable on-the-ground user experience, and a high degree of compatibility with medium-sized drones of various types.
It can satisfy the needs of users in all emergencies, the company added.
Media reported earlier that the country’s two other telecom carriers, China Mobile (中国移动) and China Telecom (中国电信), have rolled out similar base stations mounted on tethered drones to respond to emergencies.
A tethered drone adopts a multi-copter design while China Unicom this time used a fixed-rotor drone, which reportedly flies higher and comes with a wider coverage area.