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Telcos and urban air mobility (UAM) ecosystem

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The newly built 5G Intelligent Air Mobility Experience Center includes rooftop takeoff and landing capability for automated aerial vehicles (AAV) as well as a hangar for charging batteries and other required maintenance.

EHang said that Guangzhou would be their first global urban air mobility pilot city and the 5G Intelligent Air Mobility Experience Center would be the latest operation spot under the 100 Air Mobility Routes Initiative.

Use cases for eVTOL

eVTOL aircraft are designed for urban air mobility.

Aerial transport

Many eVTOL's concepts will be for air transportation. Pipistrel, an Uber Elevate partner, is already working on 5 seater air taxi. Another example would be an air taxi service called VoloCity, based on the German Volocopter 2X.

UAV delivery

The Google-owned company Alphabet has been using eVTOL UAV delivery service since 2020. Their drones fly up to 100 km and carry up to 1.5 kg. Amazon Air and UPS are also utilizing the technology for delivering the goods.

Emergency medical services

Jump Aero is mobilizing eVTOL aircraft as a solution to cut emergency response time in half and save thousands of lives. In 2020, the Canadian Air Mobility consortium studied the benefits of eVTOL for direct hospital-to-hospital transportation of patients, organs and drugs.

Recreation aviation

eVTOL aircraft are also being used for recreational aviation.

Where do telcos come in?

The utility and possibility of eVTOL in our cities sounds fascinating; however, for this technology to function at an optimal level, internet connectivity plays a crucial if not indispensable role. Hence, telcos stand at an advantageous position to benefit from this new opportunity. A case in point can be the joint venture between AT&T and Uber to provide 4G and 5G connectivity to their eVTOLs Uber. Still, at a primary stage, it is poised to become a 5G use case soon. Moreover, the evolving wireless communication networks toward sixth-generation (6G) foresee to serve the eVTOLs by 2030.

For instance, Volocopter, a German company is partnering with Saudi Arabia to develop eVTOL flight operations for NEOM, a hyper-urban planned industrial, residential, and tourist zone.

Cellular technologies such as long-term evolution-vehicle (LTE-V), which are dedicated to vehicular communications, have long transmission ranges, low latency, and higher data rates, making them much more supportive of autonomous driving. 5G technology with its high capacity, flexibility, ultra-low latency, and shorter wavelengths, can pave the way for fully autonomous and connected vehicles. Also, 5G technology, along with software-defined networking and network virtualization, can make 5G technology remarkably favorable for autonomous cars. However, eVTOL cruising altitude is around 300 meters, requiring new airborne networks or modifications for existing terrestrial cellular networks to supply communication, safety, and reliability to eVTOLs and opening up opportunities to investigate new technologies to provide aerial connectivity for eVTOLs.

Nascent stage

At the moment, a number of hurdles face the eVTOL technology in terms of issuance of proper certificates from regulation, scarcity of efficient batteries longer journeys, interference with the existing air traffic control systems, development of efficient communication system, safety concerns etc.

However, soon, these eVTOLs will enhance ‘on-demand’ mobility for intra- and intercity transportation, improving connectivity between metropolitan city centers and airports. Telcos must envision the scope of the developments in UAM ecosystems for sustainable business as well as for the environment. UAM can overcome several physical infrastructure challenges such as building roads in remote areas, using fossil fuel, and having the capacity of being fully autonomous. Leveraging the connectivity capabilities of existing networks and being future-ready for UAM is indeed a promising opportunity for the telcos as well as their stakeholders.