New York drone corridor tapped for first 5G network tests in the US

5G New York drone corridor

New York officials have announced the state’s 50-mile drone corridor will be equipped with 5G technology, making it the first in the US to test the cutting-edge communications capabilities for navigation purposes. The decision adds heft to the state’s claim of being a leading force in applied use and development of uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) and related technologies.

The announcement was made by New York Governor Kathy Hochul, who said the MITRE Engenuity Open Generation 5G Consortium has decided to trial the communication tech in the state’s 50-mile drone corridor connecting Syracuse and Rome. NUAIR, which manages the UAS zone, is a member of the Open Generation consortium, and was a major mover in the push to have it equipped 5G navigation capabilities. With those, NUAIR will be able to establish and experiment with a 100 mile-square, 5G-dedicated hub allowing beyond visual line of sight operations and long-range flight paths –  both considered essential for transforming still burgeoning drone activity into safe, regular, and widespread operations by businesses everywhere.

“Our drone corridor being selected for the launch of the nation’s first 5G unmanned aircraft systems testing range further positions our state – specifically the Central New York and the Mohawk Valley region – as the global leader in the market for this cutting-edge technology,” Hochul said. “Through our continued investment in the drone corridor, we are strengthening and growing our regional economies for generations to come.”

Though considered by many observers to be the optimal spectrum for UAS operations, 5G still needs to go through live testing and receive approval by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for aerial use below altitudes of 400 feet. Trials in New York hope to not only advance that objective, but also give the state a head start in deployment and use of 5G when it gets the operational thumbs-up for drone navigation across the country.

5G tests in state’s drone corridor puts New York in U(A)S pole position

The decision to equip and test the New York corridor with 5G tech therefore provides a significant lift to the state’s efforts to prove itself as a principal vector of drone development. Its leaders have already invested nearly $70 million to bolster UAS operations and growth in Central New York and the Mohawk Valley in the past half decade alone. 

Around $30 million of that went into the drone-dedicated corridor following its launch in 2016. Strategic funding in that has sought to accelerate UAS growth by supporting spreading and diversifying uses of the craft in key industries like agriculture, forest management, transportation, logistics, media and film, utilities, infrastructure, and public safety.

The Rome end of the corridor is home to Griffiss International Airport, and the 3,500-acre Griffiss Business and Technology Park – reputed to be the most advanced testing facility of drones and related tech on the planet. The addition of trial 5G systems to those assets, some believe, positions New York to seize the lead in driving drone operations further into the future.

“New York will be the first FAA-designated UAS test site with a bespoke 5G network,” NUAIR CEO Ken Stewart said. “The industry is looking for an FAA and FCC approved communications network that has the capability and reliability needed for safe commercial drone operations. 5G holds the promise of unlocking scalable, economically viable drone operations and we are confident that our work in New York will help determine if 5G is a suitable solution for the UAS industry.”

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