Communications for Drone Delivery: Skyward, Verizon, and UPS Partner

The dream of delivering packages by drone to doorways across America moved a little bit closer to reality this week as Skyward, a Verizon company, on Monday announced it would collaborate with UPS affiliate UPS Flight Forward to develop a drone traffic-management system using Verizon's 4G and 5G technology.

In a statement announcing the collaboration, UPS CEO Carol Tomé said Verizon's 5G technology would help the package delivery giant create the next generation of telecommunications systems needed to power routine drone deliveries.

"We will need the ability to manage and support multiple drones, flying simultaneously, dispatched from a centralized location, operating in a secure and safe environment. To do this at scale, alongside Verizon and Skyward, we'll need the power of 5G," Tomé said.

The partnership will build on an existing collaboration among Verizon, UPS Flight Forward and Skyward, which began last year with the testing of Verizon's 4G LTE technology in delivery drones to demonstrate cellular reliability and performance at altitude.

"The testing in 2020 focused on the Verizon network for airborne connectivity during flight," Eric Ringer, Skyward's director of aviation network technology, said in an email.

"We've demonstrated Skyward's capability for fleet management and situational awareness via live-flight tracking over cellular, in operations for diverse fleets." Ringer said. Moving forward, Skyward will continue to work with UPS in the use of Verizon's airborne LTE to enhance drone flight operations in The Villages, Florida, the largest U.S. retirement community, home to more than 135,000 residents.

The Benefits of 5G in Communications for Drone Delivery

The partnership also will begin testing and integrating Verizon's 5G Ultra Wideband into UPS's drone delivery system. Ringer said 5G Ultra Wideband has the potential to: coordinate air traffic and transmit high-definition video, which can be useful in remote operations.

"The low latency of 5G and edge computing is ideal for monitoring air traffic in and out of a busy logistics hub, especially those using mixed fleets of autonomous vehicles like drones, trucks and planes," Skyward President Mariah Scott said in the announcement. "This year, we'll be taking the collaboration with UPS further by testing 5G Ultra Wideband integrations to connect the sky."

In an email, UPS spokesman Matthew O'Connor said Skyward's technology "is one piece of the equation we are solving," as the company continues to incorporate drones into its broader delivery network.

"UPS Flight Forward continues to test and integrate a variety of technologies designed to help manage the safety, interoperability and effectiveness of our drone operations," he said. "We are happy to work with Verizon and Skyward as we plan for a future in which we envision simultaneous drone delivery flights from centralized, and potentially mobile locations as well."

The collaboration with Verizon and Skyward marks the latest advancement in UPS's goal of developing a drone package delivery system on a commercial scale. In September 2019, its UAS subsidiary, UPS Flight Forward, became the first drone airline to receive full Part 135 certification from the Federal Aviation Administration.

UPS Flight Forward is also the first to fly commercial drone deliveries beyond the visual line of sight⁠ (BVLOS). Last April UPS Flight Forward entered into a contract with CVS Health Corporation to use Matternet's M2 drone system to deliver prescription medicines from a CVS pharmacy to The Villages.

For its part, Skyward has worked to develop systems to connect drones to the wireless network, to enable long-distance BVLOS flights. Together with Verizon the company had developed a new internet of things (IoT) service plan for aerial devices, called Airborne LTE Operations, or ALO, which enables drones and other aircraft such as helicopters, to send command-and-control and payload data over Verizon's 4G LTE network.

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