Vodafone pilots new software to thwart rogue drones

Telecom hopes to track drones too small for radar just as air-traffic control tracks planes

Vodafone is testing technology to track and control drones to let authorities protect aircraft from accidents and terrorist attacks and stop incursions into “no-fly zones” such as prison and hospital airspace.

The trial comes amid mounting concern from the security services that terrorists could use drones adapted to carry small but lethal explosives to attack targets. Drones have been used for criminal purposes, such as smuggling and delivering contraband to prisoners.

Vodafone is trialling technology in Spain and Germany that would track commercial drones too small to be picked up on radar, in much the same way as air-traffic control systems work.

Authorities and aviation regulators are scrambling to make the skies safe before widespread commercial drone use is expected to become operational across Europe from next year.

Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk

In 2016, Amazon claimed its first successful UK delivery by drone – a TV streaming stick and bag of popcorn to a garden in Cambridge – with the US tech giant keen to expand its “Prime Air” service.

Vodafone is working with the European Aviation Safety Agency, tasked with developing regulations to ensure commercial drones fly safely across Europe.

“This will help to ensure the skies stay safe as drones become ubiquitous, everywhere,” said Johan Wibergh, group chief technology officer at Vodafone.

The system is not designed to monitor consumer drones but rather the larger classes being developed for commercial use. A preliminary trial by Vodafone last year in Seville, Spain, showed that its 4G network could be used to control a 2kg drone with a 1.3-metre wingspan.

The technology would allow the real-time tracking of each drone, accurate to within 50 metres, by drone operators and authorised bodies such as air traffic control.

It would also be possible to enable “protective geofencing”, which would automatically make drones land or return to the operator when approaching an “exclusion zone” such as an airport or a prison. Authorities would also be able to override drone control.

Vodafone hopes the technology will be ready for commercial use in 2019.


Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Chinese firm taking threats to UK national security very seriously
Overseen by a UK government board, the Cell is a part of Huawei in Oxfordshire ensuring its own technology cannot be compromised for nefarious purposes

Juliette Garside

07, Aug, 2016 @6:00 AM

Article image
Vodafone to remove Huawei from core European networks
Move will cost €200m but have limited financial impact on UK operations, says CEO Nick Read

Mark Sweney

05, Feb, 2020 @10:33 AM

Article image
EE balloons and drones to help fix mobile blackspots
Network says ‘helikites’ could be used to bring emergency coverage in rural areas and at festivals

Mark Sweney

21, Feb, 2017 @12:54 PM

Article image
Vodafone UK faces complaints over call connection problem
Company has apologised to mobile customers after a large-scale service outage

Kalyeena Makortoff and Mark Sweney

09, Jun, 2020 @6:25 PM

Article image
Vodafone axes pager business 'based on ageing technology'
Operator had only about 1,000 customers left using mobile technology that became popular in the 1980s

Angela Monaghan

10, May, 2017 @11:37 AM

Article image
Vodafone confirms talks with Three UK about merger
Combined networks would be Britain’s biggest mobile operator, challenging EE and O2

Mark Sweney

03, Oct, 2022 @11:28 AM

Article image
IAG boss calls for register of drones after near misses with aircraft
Chief executive of British Airways’ owner says drones may become serious risk to air passengers

Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

05, May, 2016 @2:18 PM

Article image
EE and Vodafone drop Huawei phones from 5G network launch
EE is to be first next-generation mobile network in UK, going live in six cities on 30 May

Mark Sweney and Samuel Gibbs

22, May, 2019 @6:09 PM

Article image
Amazon to test drone delivery in partnership with UK government
The company will run tests to explore the viability of drones carrying deliveries weighing five pounds or less – which make up 90% of Amazon’s sales

Nicky Woolf in San Francisco and Samuel Gibbs in London

25, Jul, 2016 @11:00 PM

Article image
12 cities to get superfast gigabit broadband via Vodafone by 2021
Company signs a £500m deal to lay out fibre-optic networks connecting 1m homes as it aims at 5G services

Mark Sweney

09, Nov, 2017 @3:41 PM