The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed new rules to promote access to licensed radio spectrum by drone operators.
Drones today are being used in innumerable ways for the public good. They are facilitating the rapid restoration of power infrastructure after a storm, aiding in first responder missions such as search and rescue, and even helping to manage wildfires.
But in the absence of licensed spectrum, drones are being operated primarily under unlicensed and low-power wireless communications rules or experimental licenses. Neither of these spectrum resources provides drone users with any right to protection from harmful interference. As a result, the reliability of communications using these resources is also uncertain.
And now, with drone use evolving to include the transport of heavy cargo and even human passengers, there has never been a greater need for reliable control- and safety-related communications with drones. This can be promised only with an interference-protected licensed spectrum.
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As FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel points out, “It is past time that we assess the availability of wireless communications resources for the increasingly important remote-piloted aircraft activity we rely on today.”
The FCC has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), explaining that it wants to open up the 5 GHz band to drones. Other proposals include exploring 5G as a drone platform and the broader use of cellular bands for drone applications. The FCC is also proposing a way to license drone communications with air traffic control.
“The FCC must ensure that our spectrum rules meet the current – and future – spectrum needs of evolving technologies such as unmanned aircraft systems, which can be critical to disaster recovery, first responder rescue efforts, and wildfire management,” Rosenworcel says.
AUVSI, the world’s largest nonprofit dedicated to uncrewed aircraft and robots, says it is evaluating the draft rule with its members.
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