5G Solutions with Elsight

Incorporating 5G into your cutting-edge drone designs

What is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of mobile cellular communications, poised to eventually take over from 4G as the dominant technology. The wireless technology behind 5G uses a range of radio frequencies to provide its advanced communication capabilities. For the highest data rates in the 5G specification, high frequencies known as mmWave (millimeter-wave) are utilized. Lower frequencies with higher wavelengths are also used in order to provide coverage over wider areas at the expense of data throughput.

Drone technology developers have already utilized 4G to enable advanced long-range operations for BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) unmanned aircraft. Cellular communications provide a number of advantages for BVLOS connectivity, allowing drones to achieve greater ranges than unlicensed RF (radio frequency) communications and requiring much lower SWaP-C (size, weight, power and cost) footprints than SATCOM (satellite communication) solutions. As long as aircraft are within range of cellular towers, BVLOS drones can theoretically operate at unlimited distances away from operators and command centers.

5G offers a number of technological advantages over 4G that could allow it to revolutionize the drone industry and enable a variety of new advanced applications.

5 G connectivity

Advantages of 5G over 4G



theoretical maximums a
speeds a hundred times faster than 4G.



5G supports a much higher
density of unique mobile devices.



5G has a much-reduced
latency and faster response times compared to 4G.

5G Drone Operations

5G delivers massively enhanced data throughput compared to its predecessor and is designed to provide data rates of up to 10 gigabits per second. This makes it up to 10 times faster than 4G LTE Advanced, which has a maximum rate of 1 gigabit per second, and up to 100 times faster than regular 4G.

Latency has also been improved by an order of magnitude, with response times of down to 1 millisecond compared to 4G’s 10 milliseconds. 5G also allows up to a million mobile devices per square kilometer to connect to cellular networks.

These massive increases in speeds and reduction in latency could help drone operators keep pace with the ever-growing amounts of data generated by modern high-resolution cameras and sensors, and will also allow them to take advantage of data processing on cloud servers. Combined with the increased density of unique devices, this could facilitate drone swarm operations at a scale that has previously been unheard of, allowing the industry to scale up to new heights of efficiency and profitability.

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Improved Latency for Autonomous Drones

The improved latency provided by 5G is especially advantageous for autonomous drones, which will be able to offload processing burdens to cloud servers and still benefit from near-instant response time when utilizing compute-intensive algorithms such as AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning.

These near-real-time reactions are vital for collision avoidance and other critical flight and navigation operations. Such capabilities are especially crucial for GNSS-denied navigation, which can rely on processor-intensive image analysis techniques to characterize and successfully move through the environment.

5G Power Efficiency

By taking advantage of offboard processing, drone platforms can massively reduce the impact on their SWaP budget. These additional resources can be used to power additional payloads, carry heavier cargo, and fly longer and further.

The 5G cellular technology itself is also the most power-efficient yet, and this in turn will allow smaller platforms to join future drone ecosystems.

5G Drones for Urban Operations

As 5G uses higher-frequency, shorter-wavelength radio waves that can only travel for shorter distances compared to 4G, a higher density of cell towers will have to be installed. 5G is thus likely to proliferate first in urban and built-up areas, where it makes economic sense to serve the maximum number of people.

5G-enabled drones will likely play a large part in smart city applications. These may include:

  • Public Safety & Law Enforcement: drones can provide a number of critical capabilities that enhance the success of police and first responders. They can be used as an eye-in-the-sky for security and tracing suspects, and can also deliver defibrillators and other emergency aid faster than an ambulance crew can get to the scene.
  • Drone Delivery: the use of drones for cargo and delivery in busy urban areas could help overcome traffic and emissions issues. Use cases include consumer goods, transferring blood, organs and medical supplies between hospitals, and the delivery of spare parts for automotive and other engineering requirements.
  • Urban Air Mobility (UAM): Once drone delivery networks have been established, this will pave the way for larger UAM platforms or “air taxis”. At scale, eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) UAM services have the potential to be cheaper than comparable platforms such as helicopters.

Automated drone-in-a-box units that recharge themselves and swap out payloads automatically have already been developed. The systems are used for applications such as delivery and information-gathering for first responders, and take advantage of public and private 5G and LTE networks.

Cellular connectivity is also likely to be the main method that drones will use to connect to UTM (unmanned traffic management) systems. UTM will be a necessary component that facilitates the integration of drones into civilian airspace in the near future. These systems will provide a variety of essential services including flight authorization, strategic deconfliction, aircraft tracking, and real-time weather and airspace information.

The 5G Drone Future

While 5G coverage is far from ubiquitous, particularly in rural and remote regions, the technology rollout continues to progress. Ericsson has predicted that in 2026, over half of the world’s mobile data traffic will be carried over 5G networks, and according to Qualcomm, the full economic effect of 5G is likely to be felt around the globe by 2035.

Many major drone industry players as well as e-commerce and other business giants have invested heavily in 5G technology. The advantages of 5G will play a huge part in ushering in the next stage of unmanned aircraft adoption around the globe, particularly for BVLOS and autonomous drones.

Elsight’s Halo Supports 5G Drones

Whether you are looking to create a new drone platform from the ground up, or retrofit an existing one in order to take advantage of the power of 5G connectivity, Elsight’s Halo has everything you need. The carrier-agnostic hardware enables unmanned aircraft to utilize two, three, or four unique cellular datalinks from multiple providers, supporting both SA and NSA 5G.

Halo can use these multiple datalinks to provide the critical redundancy required for safe BVLOS drone operations, and has played an essential part in gaining certification for many unmanned aircraft platforms from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other authorities around the world. Halo continuously scans all available connections, and features an automatic hot failover capability that allows seamless switching to a backup link in case of primary link failure. The system can also automatically switch to a 3G or 4G link when 5G coverage is unavailable.

Halo also features secure cellular bonding technology that allows all available links to be aggregated together, maximizing the available bandwidth and providing enhanced performance for video- and data-heavy applications.

Halo’s low SWaP signature means that OEM developers and system integrators can take advantage of everything that next-generation 5G drones have to offer, without sacrificing mission endurance, payload capacity or power budget in order to harness these powerful new capabilities.

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