AT&T and Intel trigger an avalanche of news at the Mobile World Congress with news that they are collaborating on technology to help drone operators control their flying robots over AT&T’s wireless network. Off we go into the wild blue yonder … for out-of-sight control.

This is big news for drone users. As Popular Science declared in an all-caps headline:


So now AT&T and Intel are taking the Internet of Things to the skies. From smart refrigerators to even smarter drones?

But will the skies stay friendly?

The two firms announced joint research of controlling drones through airwaves in AT&T’s 4G LTE [long-term evolution] network using Intel’s “RealSense Technology.”

“We’re using the network to transfer important information, images and video quickly and efficiently — far beyond the boundaries of short-range connectivity,” said Chris Penrose of AT&T who heads its IOT efforts. in a statement.

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“Our LTE network is uniquely positioned to connect industries like delivery, agriculture, construction and insurance. We’re using the network to transfer important information, images and video quickly and efficiently — far beyond the boundaries of short range connectivity.”

Drones are such hot commodities these days that Intel even has a “Drone Zone” at the trade show in Barcelona, Spain, where it is demoing a Yuneec Typhoon H with the Intel RealSense Technology

So far, drones have been controlled largely through Wi-Fi or short-range radio networks. If the LTE technology works, drone operators can fly their aircraft anywhere the signal is available.

More range – but more danger?

“Connecting drones over the network will help address many challenges the category faces, including safety and security concerns, real time communications, potential interference with manned aircraft and supporting future capabilities (such as beyond line of sight), as they are approved by the FAA.,” the companies noted.

Big business

Drones are rapidly becoming big business.

A recent report provided data that shows why several startups and hosts of researchers in North Carolina see potential for high-flying success in the drone industry. Sales of commercial drones such as those being developed by Raleigh-based PrecisionHawk are expected to skyrocket 84 percent this year.

The study (“The Game of Drones”) is from Juniper Research in the U.K., and its headline is: Commercial drone sales are forecast to hit $481 million this year, a one-year surge of 84 percent from $261 million.

Longer-range control just might make the business even bigger.