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IIT Kharagpur’s 5G drone fleet to act as air-borne telecom tower

UAV-based network can be used for surveillance, disaster management, crowd control, crop monitoring

The IIT Kharagpur research team has submitted the Phase-I report to the ministry of electronics and information technology. SOURCE: IIT Kharagpur

Our Correspondent

Published on : 6, January, 2021 08:56

Last Updated at : 6, January, 2021 03:06

Imagine being stuck in a disaster zone with no mobile connectivity. An air-borne mobile telecom tower designed by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, promises to be the perfect solution in such situations.

The UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle)-assisted communication infrastructure for 5G developed at GS Sanyal School of Telecommunication includes an Android-based application fitted to a fleet of drones, which are programmed to create emergency communication networks by extending cellular network coverage from the closest available mobile towers.

5G has a lot more to offer than a faster network. Flying base stations are a feature that enhance wireless capacity and coverage footprint on the ground with ultra-dense traffic demands to meet the requirements of 5G and B5G cellular communications. Such a UAV-based network is inhabitable for various applications such as setting up emergency communication networks in disaster regions, acting as a relay or maintaining Quality of Service in densely populated zones such as concerts, fests and stadiums.

UAVs, however, have one major challenge — the battery life of the device, which is about 45 minutes. This makes it difficult to maintain consistency in service. In an emergency, it is crucial to protect critical data within a micro span of time. The research team at IIT Kharagpur comprising Kirtan Gopal Panda, Shrayan Das, Bharat Dwivedi, Aunullah Qaiser and led by. Debarati Sen have responded to this bottleneck.

“Through intelligent programming, we can deploy our 5G-connected drone fleet in a particular location as soon as the first emergency signal is flagged and complete the evacuation of the endangered data in the telecommunication backbone network within the first three minutes of the occurrence of a disaster. The drones will relay the data to the rescue server located thousands of miles away while restoring the network connection through the nearest mobile tower,” said Sen, associate professor, GS Sanyal School of Telecommunication, IIT Kharagpur.


Here is how this 5G-connected drone fleet can help:

  • Disaster management from locating survivors, facilitating communication to providing emergency aid while decreasing the time for first responders, these UAVs can do it all
  • Setting up emergency communication networks in disaster regions
  • In case of network disruptions, the drones can intelligently avoid it by changing their location and bypassing the jam
  • Surveillance of remote terrains with the transmission of real-time surveillance data
  • Provide data protection and localisation
  • For people travelling to an affected region and devoid of any cellular network, they can be auto-connected to such nearby drone service as they search for the mobile network
  • These smart drones can be used for crowd management
  • Extract data from smart meters without any manned service at the location
  • In agriculture, these UAVs can be used for crop health monitoring and pesticide spray on crops

“We have already studied the performance of the UAV network with the APP ‘NerQuake’ in situations of emergency response in disaster management and maintenance of the quality of service by deploying a fleet of four unmanned aerial vehicles. We have used network coverage data of various mobile service providers in the North-Eastern states in verifying the functionality of the APP,” Sen said.

The IIT Kharagpur research team has submitted the Phase-I report to the ministry of electronics and Information technology, that has been funding the project and this intelligent UAV system is now open for commercialisation.

The researchers are also hoping to bring down the cost of such UAV system through reprogramming, thus making the system affordable for various public bodies. While 4G is still making inroads into deeper reaches of India, the transition to 5G is eagerly awaited, especially with the popularity of IoTs triggering a surge in mobile data traffic.