Deutsche Telekom to build LTE campus network for drone deliveries to hospitals
Deutsche Telekom is to build a “new type” of LTE-based campus network using spectrum from its public network to test drone deliveries of medical supplies. The deployment is at the university city of Siegen in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany.
The LTE installation will be a standalone setup, making local usage of Deutsche Telekom’s spectrum holding in Germany, for exclusive use by the parties involved. The city of Siegen and three local hospitals are also engaged in the project. An unnamed drone manufacturer and a “control room specialist” have also signed up.
Deutsche Telekom said 5G will be considered as well, as the project unfolds and seeks a blueprint for drone-based logistics. A fully autonomous drone ‘shuttle’ service is planned for regular operation between the DRK children’s hospital and the district hospital in Siegen. Further funding is being sought; test operations are scheduled to start early in 2021.
The Germany-based carrier said its “public LTE networks [will] form the basis for data exchange”. It stated: “This will enable reliable data transmission even during temporary load peaks. This means that images and control commands are transmitted even faster and support the safe flight of the drones. The campus network is implemented using existing antennas.”
The project forms part of the ongoing KODRONA research project, commissioned by the German Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) and coordinated by the city of Siegen, which is already running drones back and forth along 2.5 kilometre flight route in urban airspace between hospitals in Siegen, carrying medical samples from young patients to a central laboratory.
The test results are available to doctors more quickly, compared with traditional transportation by taxi. But the transport of samples goes outside the visual range of drone pilots. The new LTE campus network from Deutsche Telekom will look to establish a safe flight route for this, and infrastructure for take-offs and landings.
Pilots will control the drones via a secure LTE connection at a flight altitude of 80 metres. The group will also implement a collision-free cooperative air traffic system. Thomas Runge, head of economic development for the City of Siegen, commented: “Since the quality of the mobile phone coverage is decisive for the test operation, we carried out a real-time survey during the drone flight.”
Until now, the use of drones in hospital environments has not even been generally permitted, to prevent collisions. New EU regulation opens up new possibilities in the future, said Deutsche Telekom. The Siegen project has received special permission from flight authorities to carry out the tests.
Dominik Eichbaum, project manager from the city of Siegen, said: “We have the opportunity here to work with new technologies and put them to work for people. This also includes setting up the mobile communications infrastructure that supports the entire process. The drone pilots must control the aircraft via a secure mobile phone network and the drone control center must be fail-safe connected to it.”
Hagen Rickmann, in charge of business customers at Deutsche Telekom, said: “To ensure that pilots are allowed to fly the drones outside of their visual range, the aircraft transmit live images from a built-in camera to the control center. This requires a high-performance network and low latency. A particularly fast reaction time of the communications network is essential for delay-free control.”