Vocus, an Australian fibre and network solutions provider, has partnered with NSW Telco Authority to showcase a new approach to delivering critical mobile connectivity during emergencies. The innovative solution involves a tethered drone equipped with high-speed low-earth orbit satellite connectivity from Vocus Satellite - Starlink. The drone acts as a mobile tower in the sky, providing 4G/5G and two-way radio connectivity across an area of up to 28 square kilometres. With its ground-based power supply, the drone can fly indefinitely, making it an invaluable asset for emergency services in rescue and recovery operations.
The heavy-lift drone has a carrying capacity of up to 15kg, allowing it to transport essential equipment such as 4G/5G tower equipment, P25 two-way radios, and floodlights or cameras. This versatility enables the drone to establish mobile network coverage in areas where it is needed the most, such as rugged mountainous regions or disaster-stricken areas where traditional mobile towers may be disrupted or damaged.
During a recent demonstration at a NSW Rural Fire Service base in Bimbimbie, Emergency Services Organisations had the opportunity to test the solution. Led by the NSW Telco Authority's Next Generation Digital Connectivity initiative, the demonstration showcased how the drone can provide critical communication services during natural disasters when standard mobile networks are unreliable.
Ashley Neale, Development Manager Space and Satellite at Vocus, highlighted the significance of the solution, stating,
"This is an example of how Vocus is using its strength in satellite technology, and Challenge Networks' expertise in wireless and systems integration to deliver a brilliantly simple solution for a particularly Australian challenge."
The drone's operational process involves taking off from the ground while carrying the necessary equipment to establish mobile network coverage. A lightweight tether cable supplies power and data from the ground station, allowing the drone to remain airborne indefinitely with brief landings for maintenance every 12 hours. It can function as a repeater for public mobile networks in collaboration with local carriers or establish a private and secure mobile network exclusively for emergency services personnel. The drone's data feed is sourced from Vocus Satellite - Starlink, providing reliable connectivity with clear calls and data speeds exceeding 100Mbps.
The extent of mobile coverage provided by the drone depends on its altitude and transmitting power. During the NSW Telco demonstration, a coverage area of 28 square kilometres was achieved in dense bushland. The drone is operated by a CASA accredited pilot and can be remotely controlled if authorized by CASA, enabling round-the-clock airborne operation for continuous emergency mobile connectivity.