Geoff Carey, Product Manager, Tellumat Defence & Security Business Unit

The growing demand for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has given rise to a wide range of applications across various industries, driving innovation in associated communication systems.

A recent report by McKinsey and Company categorises existing applications into five distinct areas, each imposing unique line-of-sight (LOS) link requirements for command and control of these unmanned aerial systems (UASs).

Surveillance: Shadowing applications will have a growing requirement for enhanced imaging (still and video formats of higher resolutions). This will increase demand for higher data throughput and more advanced video compression techniques.

Operations: Organisations will keep developing new UAV applications to replace existing ways of performing difficult tasks, but this is unlikely to have much impact on LOS communication links.

Entertainment & advertising: New use cases continue to crystallise around UAVs in entertainment and advertising, and as this continues it will put increased demand on the uplink data component.

Signal emission: It is anticipated that UAVs may in future be used as relays or mobile base stations, which will increase the demand for data throughput in both uplink and downlink communications.

Transportation: Although not directly related to data capacity, the expected growth in mobility and load-bearing demands on UAVs will place additional strain on the power consumption of airborne radio transceivers, as well as their volume and mass.

Driving evolution

As is obvious from all the above, new applications will drive growth in data capacity for both the uplink and downlink portions of the datalink. So what technological advances are enabling this – and have the legs to fuel further evolution?

  • Miniaturisation – complex transceiver circuitry has become smaller through software defined radio techniques and large-scale integration of microelectronic components, resulting in smaller volume circuitry with improved functionality.
  • Radio frequency power – New Gallium Nitride devices have improved linearity and RF power handling characteristics compared to Gallium Arsenide devices.
  • Battery technology improvements provide higher power density per volume.
  • Wireless transceiver chipsets are becoming commercially available. Originally intended for mobile and Wi-Fi communications, these new chipsets have been used effectively in UAV communication, with ranges of up to 50km.
  • Advancement in sensor technology has brought higher-resolution imaging capability to UAVs. This will drive further increases in LOS link capacities.
  • Evolution of video compression techniques to the H.265 standard, which is up to 50% more efficient than H.264.
  • Commercially-available UAV solutions incorporate Mobile Ad-hoc Networking (MANET) technology.

Building on a successful 35-year track record as an innovator and supplier of LOS communication solutions for UAV applications, as well as their highly capable and cost-effective medium class UAS tactical surveillance system (ASTUS UAV), Tellumat continues to develop leading-edge solutions in this domain.

* This is the first of a two-part article covering the technical requirements, technology developments and considerations for long-range UAV communication datalinks.