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Accelerating the commercial drones market with cellular connectivity, by Dr. Shane Rooney, Executive Director, GSMA

Cellular connectivity in this context means that a drone can interact with mobile networks when equipped with a SIM card and a communications modem

Accelerating the commercial drones market with cellular connectivity, by Dr. Shane Rooney, Executive Director, GSMA

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are an increasing feature of modern life, with their potential uses spanning across a wide variety of industries.


Commercial drones make up the fastest growing sector of the overall UAV market[1], which is projected to be worth $1.8 billion by 2020[2]. The growth in use is largely down to the increasing demand for the technology to support in service-based application areas - such as search and rescue operations and product delivery. The advantages of using commercial drones are clear; when it comes to commerce, they require far less energy when compared to large delivery vehicles and can be controlled without a human operator. They also have the ability to be controlled remotely – providing access to places that were previously inaccessible[3], a clear advantage when it comes to applications such as disaster relief.


As the market grows, the demand for airspace, development of advanced sensors, improvements in speeds and enhanced data processing capabilities will also increase. The key component in ensuring the market develops at its projected pace is the increase in adoption of cellar connectivity drones.


Cellular connectivity in this context means that the drone can interact with mobile networks when equipped with a SIM card and a communications modem using existing licensed mobile spectrum and networks.


The benefits of cellular connectivity in commercial drones


One of the key benefits of utilising cellular connectivity in drones is that this can be integrated into existing mobile infrastructure. This makes the fast growth of cellular connected drones economically feasible because no investment is necessary to roll out a new infrastructure.


A key concern around the commercial drones market relates to this issue of security; as drones carry a large volume of data, and there is a risk that they can be hacked. The advantage of utilising a cellular connection is that it is fully secure and encrypted, meaning that the data that the drone is able to report on (flight height, destination etc), can be securely transmitted between drone operators and authorities. This provides the basis for services that need to be supported beyond simple line of sight, such as package delivery and disaster response.


Another key advantage to the use of a cellar connection is that it provides connectivity for the drone beyond line of sight, providing access to far wider areas, inaccessible to humans. This gives UAVs the potential to support with unmanned traffic management solutions and in no-fly zones.


What differentiates cellular technology as a true accelerator of the commercial drones industry is its ability to evolve. As the mobile network continues to move towards the development of 5G, the ability to control a greater number of commercial drones will also increase.




To harness the benefits of cellular technology and commercial drone usage, it is vital that relevant national and European spectrum authorities ensure that there are no undue barriers to the use of licensed mobile spectrum for drone use.


In order to ensure an operation-centric, proportionate, risk and performance-based regulatory framework, the new EU regulatory framework should ensure that drones can, where required, be equipped with SIM cards and a communications modem so that the drone ecosystem can benefit from cellular connectivity.


The GSMA has for many years, been at the forefront of the effort to accelerate the delivery of new connected devices and services in the context of the Internet of Things (IoT). The GSMA believes that the emerging drones market will benefit from the capabilities that exist with the global mobile platform, communication networks and the inherent approaches towards data protection, privacy, and security. To access the GSMA’s regulatory position paper, visit


For further information, see



Dr. Shane Rooney is an Executive Director at the GSMA on the Internet of Things Programme. Bringing together strategies and synergies across the M2M verticals and the wider IoT ecosystems, he has a wealth of experience in Mobile Communications particularly in Enterprise Solutions and M2M having global experience in a number of operators including Etisalat, Vodafone, and Hutchison. In addition, he worked at Ford Motor Company innovating and pioneering Telematic Solutions and developing new revenue opportunities. He has also been involved in some new innovative M2M companies working on prestigious projects with Motorola, Zumtobel, and Aston Martin. He holds a Ph.D. in Communications Engineering from Lancaster University and Business Marketing from IMD Switzerland.











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