HomeNewsOfcom announces plans for commercial drones

    Ofcom announces plans for commercial drones


    The UK telecoms regulator proposed a new spectrum licensing regime today.

    Ofcom said it had been working with the government and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to develop a new approach for authorising the radio equipment needed onboard drones.

    The statement said, “We are proposing to introduce new spectrum licences that allow operators to use mobile and satellite networks to achieve this.”

    It explained that drones are increasingly large and complex, and flying over ever longer distances, sometimes out of sight of the operator. This has opened many commercial opportunities across industry sector, from doorstep deliveries to machinery maintenance.

    Nevertheless, long-distance, high-altitude drones still must be controlled from the ground and send back data or video to the operator. 

    Current regime

    Ofcom currently allows drones to use airwaves designated for model aircraft or for Wi-Fi, which does not require a licence, but is unsuitable for the services offered by the latest generation of drones. 

    Ofcom has been involved in trials innovative to research, develop and test new types of wireless equipment on drones, including: 

    • Royal Mail exploring ‘postal drone routes’ to make deliveries to remote communities, with test flights for the new service covering an almost 100-mile round trip in rural Scotland;  
    • a transport link between Southampton Hospital and St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight for delivery of urgent medical supplies during the coronavirus pandemic; and  
    • the deployment of drones in industrial settings to inspect, monitor and maintain machinery. 

    As a result, the regulator proposes to authorise various technologies to support drones being used in ways that are not permitted now.

    CAA steps in

    The CAA is setting rules governing how and where commercial drones can be flown safely, and working with the government to develop a framework to integrate them into UK airspace. 

    Ofcom’s new licences would also authorise the use of safety equipment to enable drones to operate safely in UK airspace, enabling the CAA and Department for Transport to advance their wider airspace policy proposals.   

    Helen Hearn, Ofcom’s Spectrum Interim Group Director, said, “Commercial drones have the potential to bring a whole host of benefits, such as delivering vital supplies or assisting search and rescue operations in remote locations. We want to ensure that businesses pioneering these projects can access the spectrum they need to harness the full potential of the latest drone technology.”