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Vodafone conducts UK’s first 4G drone delivery

Mobile operator Vodafone has used its 4G network for a drone delivery to a remote area of the UK in a first for the country.

The demonstration saw Vodafone technicians using a drone to deliver food to Portland Bill Coastwatch, located at one of the UK’s most southerly points.

While drones are generally controlled via radio link and rely on line of site, a laptop at the landing station used the 4G connection to send GPS coordinates to the drone to automatically guide it to the location.

Vodafone said that this was the first time 4G technology had been used to control a drone in the country. Successor technology 5G, which will begin to be rolled out next year, provides a more real-time connection due to faster connection speeds and is likely to be a more viable tool for delivery drones.

Scott Petty, chief technology officer, Vodafone UK said: “Technology plays an increasingly important role in connecting people over Christmas.  Flying a drone over 4G for the first time gives us a glimpse of what Christmas deliveries of the future might look like.

The news came as drones made headlines for a more negative reason, as Gatwick Airport announced it had closed its runway for safety reasons due to sightings of drones on its runway.

A range of companies are exploring the use of drones for ecommerce deliveries, including Icelandic start-up Aha, UPS and Amazon.

Amazon has been exploring the potential of drones since 2013 at latest, when CEO Jeff Bezos outlined the strategy publicly. In December 2016, the company successfully delivered a package via Prime Air in Cambridge, England. The drone required no human control whatsoever and carried a package containing an Amazon Fire TV box.

It recently joined the SAFIR consortium to test parcel delivery by drones at a new facility in Belgium.