Ofcom wants to clamp down on using Wi-Fi on your drone

DJI Spark
(Image credit: Future)

Ofcom plans to allocate dedicated spectrum frequencies for commercial drones, arguing that the current framework is unsuitable for the commercial development and application of the technology.

At present, drones can be used with unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum but must always remain in sight of the operator. 

This is clearly impractical for long-distance delivery drones and remote maintenance applications.

Drone spectrum

The UK communications watchdog has been working with the government and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to develop a new approach that will enable industries to use the technology safely and even to allow drones to use UK airspace.

Trials with Royal Mail have seen ‘postal drone routes’ make deliveries to remote communities in rural Scotland, while a transport link between Southampton Hospital and St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight made deliveries of urgent medial suppliers during the pandemic.

Ofcom says that following “promising results”, it is proposing the use of a range of technologies to support drone use which is not currently permitted today.

The proposals will also authorise the use of safety equipment that will allow the CAA and Department for Transport (DfT) further progress their wider airspace policy proposals.

Any drone that uses a spectrum licence would still need to have the approval of both the CAA and mobile operator, and Ofcom has no plans to change the current regulations that allow drones to use the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands without a licence.

“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,” said Helen Hearn, Ofcom’s spectrum Interim Group Director. “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.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.