Qualcomm is partnering with top-tier carriers AT&T and Verizon as it looks to gain traction in the emerging drone and internet of things markets.
On the first day of the CTIA Super Mobility 2016 show Sept. 6 in Las Vegas, officials with the mobile chip maker said Qualcomm and AT&T plan to run tests to determine how well drones operate on commercial 4G LTE networks, which could help accelerate the use of drones in the corporate world.
At the same time, Qualcomm will integrate Verizon’s ThingSpace internet of things (IoT) platform-as-a-service into one of its LTE modems. The idea is to make it more economical to connect many of the billions of devices that make up the IoT via LTE networks and to make it simpler to build, deploy and manage such devices.
The moves are the latest by Qualcomm as it looks to expand beyond mobile devices and push into such growth areas as drones, IoT, virtual reality and autonomous cars with its high-performance, low-power ARM-based system-on-a-chip (SoC) technologies. The company is competing with the likes of Intel, Nvidia, NXP and other chip makers as they make plays in the various new markets.
With AT&T, Qualcomm will test how well drones operate on commercial 4G LTE and upcoming networks including 5G to see how they can be used in the future, looking at everything from coverage and signal strength to mobility, according to officials.
The research is important given current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations that include not allowing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to be flown outside the operator’s line of sight, unless specifically permitted. At the same time, top web-based vendors including Amazon and Google see drones as a new avenue for delivering products, and other organizations want to use drones for such jobs as inspections of pipelines, utility towers and other remote operations and to explore distant areas.
The goal of the tests will be to see what needs to be done to make it easier for drone operators to run their devices beyond their line of sight. Cellular networks offer advantages over WiFi and other wireless networks, including ubiquitous coverage, high-speed mobile support, greater reliability and high quality of service (QoS), according to officials with both companies.
“Many of the anticipated benefits of drones, including delivery, inspections and search and rescue, will require a highly secure and reliable connection,” Chris Penrose, senior vice president of IoT solutions with AT&T, said in a statement. “With a focus on both regulatory and commercial needs, LTE connectivity has the potential to deliver optimal flight plans, transmit flight clearances, track drone location and adjust flight routes in near real-time. Solving for the connectivity challenges of complex flight operations is an essential first step to enabling how drones will work in the future.”
The tests will be based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Flight drone platform, which the company introduced in September 2015. The platform houses all the mobile functionality needed by the unmanned flying vehicles—from sensor processing power and navigation features to 4K video cameras and various sensors—onto a single 58mm-by-40mm development board. Company officials said the platform already is being used in some drones currently on the market.
The trials, which are expected to begin later this month, will run at Qualcomm’s UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) Flight Center on the company’s campus in San Diego, California. The FAA in April approved Qualcomm’s request to be able to fly drones at 200 feet or lower on the campus. The site offers what company officials call “real world” conditions, which include commercial, residential and uninhabited areas and FAA controlled airspace. Drones also can be tested using commercial cellular networks without impacting AT&T’s normal network operations, they said.
Qualcomm Partners With AT&T, Verizon on Drones, IoT
With Verizon, Qualcomm is working to make it easier and less costly to connect intelligent IoT devices to cellular networks, in particularly 4G LTE, while also getting them ready for upcoming 5G networks. The companies will do this by integrating Verizon’s ThingSpace IoT software platform within Qualcomm’s MDM9206 Category M (Cat M1) LTE modem. While it has been more costly to connect IoT devices to LTE networks than to other wireless modes such as WiFi, Bluetooth and ZigBee, embedding the LTE chipset into connected devices can make deploying IoT devices on 4G LTE faster. Now the companies want to use Cat M1 as the standard, which will help drive down the cost.
OEMs will be able to develop MDM9206-based products with the ThingSpace platform integrated early next year, the companies said. Through the integration, organizations will be able to speed connectivity to the cloud via the Verizon platform, which enables developers to build and manage applications. Putting the software into the modem will speed the development of new intelligent, connected devices for 4G LTE networks and will lead to the development of more sophisticated apps, officials said.
“When it comes to the internet of things, no single company can go at it alone to scale from the millions of devices to the billions of devices needed to create cleaner cities, deliver better health care, conserve water and make the digital world work better for consumers and citizens,” Mike Lanman, senior vice president of enterprise products and IoT at Verizon, said in a statement. “Simplicity is a necessary starting point and working across the ecosystem—at the network, platform and application levels—is also needed in order to capture the real market opportunity of the internet of things.”
Verizon unveiled the ThingSpace platform in October 2015 to enable developers to easily create apps for the IoT.