How Mobile Network Operators Are Transforming the Drone Industry
How can MNOs create viable business models through supporting several services within the UAV industry?
GSMA answers this question in their new white paper on the fascinating synergy between mobile network operators and the booming world of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones. This comprehensive paper delves into the potential for mobile operators to revolutionize various industries by supporting services such as aerial connectivity, APIs for network quality on-demand, positioning systems, edge computing, air traffic surveillance, and more. As we explore the key takeaways from this white paper, we'll uncover how cellular-connected UAVs are reshaping industries and how 5G technology is propelling the drone sector into a new era of innovation and growth.
The UAV Market
The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) market has seen unprecedented growth in recent years, transforming the way we view and interact with technology. In 2022, this dynamic industry reached a significant milestone, with a total worth of approximately US$30.6 billion, and its trajectory promises even greater heights. According to UAV Industry Insights, the UAV market is projected to experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.8% until 2030, showcasing its resilience and potential.
One of the most encouraging indicators of the UAV market's vitality is the continuous growth in investments. From 2012 to 2021, there was a steady annual increase in investment, with few exceptions, according to UAV Industry Insights. The pinnacle of this investment surge was reached in 2021, both in terms of total investment value and venture capital value.
While the UAV market has been on an upward trajectory, 2022 presented some challenges. Both total and venture capital investments experienced a minor dip. Several factors contributed to this shift including geopolitical tensions, notably the crisis in Ukraine, and the ongoing pandemic-related shortage of resources had a significant impact. Rising interest rates added to investor caution and uncertainty, reflecting a more complex landscape than in previous years.
The Growing Potential of 5G-Enabled UAVs
One of the most exciting prospects highlighted in the white paper is the role of 5G technology in enhancing UAV capabilities. With 5G connectivity, UAVs experience a significant boost in performance. They benefit from faster data transfer speeds and low latency connections, enabling them to operate in real-time, which is crucial for many industries.
For instance, agriculture can leverage 5G-enabled UAVs for precision farming, optimizing crop management and resource allocation. Delivery services can benefit from enhanced tracking and route optimization, making deliveries faster and more efficient. In inspection and emergency response, the real-time capabilities of 5G-equipped drones can save lives by providing rapid situational awareness.
5G technology has already been tested in various projects worldwide, demonstrating its ability to improve UAV performance significantly. As 5G continues to mature and becomes more widely available, we can anticipate a surge in the adoption of 5G-enabled UAVs across various industries. This transition heralds a new era of innovation and growth, where drones become integral tools for businesses seeking to enhance their operations and services.
Why are these MNOs working with Unmanned Life?
Unmanned Life provides THE platform that enables these drone applications for end customers, from the actively mentioned surveillance vertical, all the way to inspections or delivery. As mentioned in the use case sections of the whitepaper (P.114), Unmanned Life works closely with MNOs and hyperscalers who can offer these value-increasing services through the platform.
With Unmanned Life partnering with, and using these MNO drone services, we can create end-to-end, high-value applications for end customers. These services from MNOs include configured 5G connectivity via public or private networks, advanced 5G capabilities such as Quality of Service APIs and slicing, scalable hosting solutions, cyber security, and more.
In addition, MNOs have pools of enterprise customers through 5G sales that are actively looking for valuable 5G-enabled applications. Unmanned life’s productisation of security (U-Security), is an example of a rapidly deployable product that is already being scaled in collaboration with MNOs around the world.
Conclusion and Core Takeaways for 2023
Over the past three years, the UAV industry has demonstrated remarkable stability and consistent growth, even amid global challenges. This sustained growth has fostered confidence and dispelled unrealistic hype, especially under the enterprise drone segment.
Regulation remains a pivotal factor. While progress has been made, the industry's scalability hinges on advancing standards for advanced missions, particularly Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations.
Power and utilities, Ports, Logistics, and Oil & Gas have emerged as the dominant sectors in demand for drone applications. This is aligned with both Unmanned Life’s current vertical focus and the focus of MNOs providing the core services around network provisioning and other applications.