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Vodafone's 4G RPS to boost drone tracking

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Vodafone is developing the world’s first 4G-powered Radio Positioning System (RPS) that can help ease safety concerns associated with civilian drones and offer more accurate tracking of other Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

The Newbury-based operator has been working with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in its mission to regulate the operations of drones, which are a risk to aircraft, and a possible tool for criminals and terrorists seeking to smuggle contraband and explosives.

Commercial civilian drones are too small to be tracked by conventional radar and with research suggesting that drones will log 250 million flying hours over densely-populated areas of the EU every year by 2050 – more than normal aircraft.

Vodafone 4G RPS

“The Commission supports all trials aimed at realising our U-space vision for safe commercial drone operations in the EU – there is a growing network of demonstrations and projects across the EU,” declared Matthew Baldwin, Deputy Director General of the EC. “We look forward to hearing the results of Vodafone’s work.”

Vodafone’s RPS uses an LTE modem and embedded SIM to enable real time tracking of each drone up to an accuracy of 50 metres. There are provisions for geofencing, so drones are excluded from sites such as airports and prisons, while emergency remote control intervention will allow authorities to alter a drone’s flightpath or force it to land.

Additionally, SIM-based e-identification and owner registration will make it easier to regulate the sector, especially since cellular networks are more secure and RPS data is harder to hack than GPS.

Vodafone has trialled the technology in Spain and plans more tests this year ahead of a commercial launch in 2019. It has released its findings into the public domain to accelerate the development of RPS.

Although drones are the initial use case, Vodafone believes the superior tracking ability of RPS in indoor environments could make it more suitable than GPS for some IoT devices.

“This groundbreaking innovation by Vodafone will help to ensure the skies stay safe as drones become ubiquitous, everywhere,” added Vodafone Group CTO Johan Wibergh.


Steve McCaskill

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.