News | 22 Jan 2020

How cellular-connected drones could boost the UK economy

How cellular-connected drones could boost the UK economy

Vodafone UK is calling for commercial and public sector drones to be fitted with SIM cards to give them cellular network connectivity. 

This would help reduce illegal and irresponsible drone use, the company argues, the like of which closed Gatwick Airport in December 2018 and which has caused many potentially catastrophic “near miss” incidents with passenger aircraft. 

The report, called Cellular-connected Drones and written by WPI Economics for Vodafone, reveals that 80% of people surveyed would support more widespread adoption of drones if there were a mechanism to provide increased safety, security and monitoring.

Cellular-connected drones infographic polling result

Credits: Vodafone

Ensuring drones were fitted with SIM cards would enable them to be flown beyond “visual line of sight” of their operators, the report argues, and for their true potential to be realised. Currently, drone pilots must keep their drones within sight at all times. 

Cellular connection would also facilitate a necessary Unmanned Traffic Management system to monitor drone identity, location and flight plan authorisation, as well as enable dynamic no-fly zones, Vodafone argues. 

Its Radio Positioning System, developed in 2018, would police such zones and prevent drones from entering them.

The report argues that remotely controlled and monitored drones could: 

  • deliver time-critical medical supplies
  • inspect power lines, bridges and other infrastructure
  • monitor and respond to emergency situations, including firesand traffic accidents 
  • improve agricultural efficiency through “precision farming”
  • survey forests, buildings and construction sites
  • provide accurate flood maps and damage assessments for the insurance industry.

By 2030, consultancy PwC thinks we'll have...

drones in UK skies
jobs in the UK drone economy

added to UK GDP


annual cost savings


And the report calls for the government to: 

  • establish a “blue light” drones fund to enable emergency services and NHS trusts to trial drones for new purposes
  • establish further testing facilities for UTM systems and Beyond Visual Line of Sight operations
  • explore how cellular connectivity could facilitate UTM systems, dynamic no-fly zones and electronic detectability.

Click here for the full press release and download the report by clicking on the red button at the top of this article.

About Vodafone UK

Vodafone UK connects people, businesses and devices to help our customers benefit from digital innovation. Our services span mobile, fixed line connections, home and office broadband and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Having made the UK’s first mobile phone call and sent the first text message, Vodafone has a history as a tech pioneer. In 2018 we made the UK’s first live holographic call using 5G, and were first to start carrying live 5G traffic from a site in Salford, Greater Manchester. We now have 5G in more places than anyone else, with multiple locations now live across the UK and the rest of Europe.

Today we serve more than 18 million mobile and fixed line customers in the UK, with 4G network coverage at 99%.  Our customers voted us the UK’s Best Mobile Network at the 2018 Trusted Reviews Awards – for the second year in a row. To help deliver Gigabit UK, our full-fibre broadband roll-out programme now covers 15 UK towns and cities through partnerships with CityFibre and Openreach.

Connectivity is at the heart of what we do as it gives us a huge opportunity for good. We are using our network, products, talents and technology to help society prosper and respond to significant social and environmental issues.  Our free Digital Parenting magazine is helping families and schools across the UK to navigate the online world safely. Meanwhile, the Vodafone Foundation’s work with researchers at Imperial College is developing personalised cancer treatment using the processing power of smartphones.

We are part of Vodafone Group, one of the world’s largest technology communications companies, with mobile operations in 26 countries, partnerships with mobile networks in 55 more, and fixed broadband operations in 19 markets.  As of 30 September 2019, Vodafone Group had approximately 625 million mobile customers, 27 million fixed broadband customers, and 22 million TV customers – including all of the customers in Vodafone’s joint ventures and associates.

For more information about Vodafone UK, please visit:


Vodafone UK Media Relations

Telephone: +44 (0) 1635 693 693

Twitter: @VodafoneUKNews


Vodafone Limited

Registered Office: Vodafone House, The Connection, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2FN

Registered in England No: 1471587