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How will the Networking and Communications Sector incorporate Drones?

Drone blog image

Drone technology has the potential to increase UK GDP by £42 billion by 2030, according to new research. PwC estimates there will be more than 76,000 drones in use across UK skies by 2030. More than a third of these could be utilised by the public sector (including in areas such as defence, health and education).

There are significant opportunities for economic gains across all sectors, but the GDP uplift generated by drones is forecast to have a considerable impact on the public sector with an increase of 2.3%, amounting to around £11.4bn. 

The potential of drone usage to improve public sector services by creating greater efficiencies, reducing risk to workers and offering cost savings to councils is an important topic for local authorities to consider. Indeed, some are already using drones for activities such as infrastructure inspection and emergency management and considering how drone surveying could be useful for everything from crime prevention to flood monitoring.

Back in 2016, the Telegraph reported that Epping Forest District Council and Moray Council were utilising drones to check on planning applications, while other councils had also used drones to check on the condition of council buildings, survey dangerous structures and monitor coastal erosion.  

Earlier this year, a UK based innovation foundation, Nesta, partnered with Bradford, London, Preston, Southampton and the West Midlands to explore how drones could be used in their communities. The regions have been looking at how drones can support disaster response such as flooding and search and rescue, city planning and liaising with the blue light services including the fire service.

Southampton, home of Datrix customer - Southampton General Hospital, has a very strong drone and autonomous systems expertise as the leader of a large consortium project called CASCADE which looks at implementation of drones in civil airspace. Southampton is also participating in the EPSRC project and the Airstart project with the Royal National Lifeboat Institute.

The table below illustrates how different sectors will benefit from the drone economy in the UK by 2030.  


Potential GDP increase

Percentage impact

Agriculture, Mining, Gas and Electricity



Construction and Manufacturing



Finance, Insurance, Professional Services and Administration 



Public Sector, Defence, Health and Education 



Technology, Media and Telecoms



Transport and Logistics 



Wholesale, Retail Trade, Accommodation and Food 




Across the UK, PwC estimates there will be 628,000 people working in the drone economy by 2030. New types of jobs to develop, build, operate and regulate drones will be needed, due to changes in productivity and consumer demand resulting from increased drone usage.

PwC drones leader, Elaine Whyte explained;“ Drones have the potential to offer a powerful new perspective for businesses across a variety of industries, delivering both productivity benefits and increased value from the data they collect. The UK has the opportunity to be at the leading edge of exploiting this emerging technology, and now is the time for investments to be made in developing the use cases and trial projects needed to kickstart our drone industry.”

Businesses are keen to leverage drones for their data-gathering capacity and recognise that, as a disruptive technology, it is never too soon to develop drone expertise.

Case Studies


BT has been experimenting with using drones to provide temporary internet coverage to hard-to-reach areas. If networks are impaired by floods in the future, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could first assess the damage and then provide internet access to the area through tethered drones and balloons.

Balfour Beatty
In May 2017, Balfour Beatty and West Sussex County Council completed a trial which used drone technology to inspect bridges.

The trial itself - which surveyed Swan Bridge in Pulborough and Adur Ferry Bridge in Shoreham-By-Sea - resulted in £8,000 of savings compared to traditional inspections.

Qualcomm announced that it was joining forces with AT&T in 2016, to create a new drone project. This project tested how well drones can fly on cellular networks.

Budget airline easyJet, have been rolling out drone inspections this year at London airports Gatwick and Luton. The drones perform aircraft inspections to check for damage following events such as lightning strikes.  London Gatwick also began trials of UAVs designed to perform runway inspections in the first half of 2018.

Airport's chief information officer, Cathal Corcoran, said the drones will replace manual inspections for damage or foreign object debris. 

They can perform inspections better than any human eye. Drones are exciting for us
Corcoran, CIO

In June 2016, DHL's completed its three-month-long test of its automated drone delivery system, Parcelcopter. According to DHL, the Parcelcopter completed 130 autonomous loading and unloading procedures during numerous differing weather conditions and temperature fluctuations. 

Network Rail
Network Rail’s ORBIS project, films UK railways with 3D cameras attached to drones to analyse maintenance and field worker distribution.


Potential uses for Drones in the Networking and Communications Sector 

  • Delivering replacements more efficiently (rather than having to wait for an engineer to locate the replacement, find the address of the recipient and drive there where they may encounter traffic, time and petrol costs. They could be tending to a situation that actually requires human interaction instead)
  • Analysing a severe incident and reporting back the data and images to the call centre
  • Monitoring sites; ensuring set up is correct, picking up on errors before they have an impact
  • Enabling the Public-Sector entities to better serve citizens; supplying hospitals in the form of e.g. sending medical supplies, data/images from one hospital to another, sending alerts and communications during severe incidents or when there is a black out or computer hacking scare
  • Inspecting large infrastructures
  • Upgrading wired and wireless networks and boosting their signals


[1] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/10/drones-to-check-planning-applications/
[2] http://www.publicsectorexecutive.com/Public-Sector-News/seizing-the-opportunity-to-shape-drone-usage
[3] https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/easyjet-to-roll-out-drone-inspections-from-2018-441652/
[4] https://publictechnology.net/articles/features/drones-and-city-future

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