Vocus Australia, in partnership with Telstra NSW, has announced a new approach to delivering critical 4G/5G mobile connectivity in emergency situations such as natural disasters.
Vocus Satellites powered by specialist fiber optic and network solutions provider Vocus – Australian-made drones use Starlink’s high-speed, low-orbit satellite connections to act as aerial mobile towers, providing connectivity square kilometers to up to 28 regions.
This heavy-duty drone can carry up to 15 kilograms and can hover with payloads such as 4G/5G tower equipment, P25 two-way radios, bright floodlights and cameras. This flexibility enables the UAV to provide critical support to emergency services in rescue and recovery situations.
For example, if a person is lost in a rugged mountainous area that is inaccessible by radio waves, rescuers will work with the victim’s cell phone company to utilize the drone to establish a new coverage area and be able to reach the victim. Similarly, in natural disaster situations, such as when cell phone towers are jammed or damaged, drones can act as aerial cell phone towers.
Challenge Networks, a Vocus company, specializes in building private 4G/5G networks, exploring ways to combine low-orbit satellite connectivity, terrestrial power, heavy-duty drones, and compact mobile network devices. We designed and built this solution after seeing if it could solve a key problem.
Emergency services test solution
Emergency services recently had the opportunity to test the solution in a demonstration at the NSW Rural Fire Service’s Bimby base. The demonstration, led by the NSW Telecommunications Authority’s Next Generation Digital Connectivity program, will show how drones can provide critical communications services during natural disasters, particularly when standard mobile networks are down.
How to connect from the air:
- Drones take off from the ground with the necessary equipment to establish mobile network coverage
- A high-strength, lightweight cable provides power and data from the ground station, allowing the drone to remain in the air indefinitely, requiring only a brief landing every 12 hours for maintenance checks.
- The drone can be used as a repeater for a public mobile network (with the help of a local operator) or to create a dedicated and secure mobile network for emergency services personnel only.
- It can also be fitted with other wireless equipment, bright floodlights and cameras.
- The drone’s data feed is powered by the Vocus satellite – Starlink, which provides a low-orbit satellite connection for clear, latency-free calls and data speeds of up to 100Mbps to connected devices.
- The mobile coverage of a drone is proportional to its altitude and transmit power. The NSW telecom demonstration covered 28 square kilometers of dense forest
- The drones are operated by CASA-certified pilots and can be operated remotely with CASA approval for 24-hour aerial operations.