KPN is the founding partner of Amsterdam Drone Week. And they are not just that. Jacob Groote, Executive Vice President B2B at KPN, explains why KPN is closely involved in numerous drone developments and how the company contributes to the successful growth of the sector.
KPN is one of the founding partners of Amsterdam Drone Week. Why?
Jacob Groote: “Everyone can see that drones will take a huge flight in the coming years. One of the most important developments will be that drones will fly outside of the so-called ‘visual line of sight’. To do that you need a reliable wireless network. 5G will play a very large role in this. That is why telecom operators worldwide are active in the drone world. The GSMA, the worldwide federation of telecom operators, is therefore also in constant dialogue with organizations such as the American aviation authority FAA. In many ways, the technologies that companies such as KPN and their networks have developed are important for taking these steps. That is why we like to join an event such as the Amsterdam Drone Week. Our networks will be crucial for safe driving of autonomous vehicles - not just drones - and for them to communicate with each other."
One of the big drivers of Urban Air Mobility will be 5G. How far is KPN in that area?
“KPN has 5G field labs at various locations in the Netherlands, for various applications. There is a 5G field lab in Drenthe, where 5G is already running in a rural environment, primarily intended to support farmers. The second field lab is in an urban environment, the Johan Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam. There we investigate applications for consumers and, for example, the police. In Helmond there is a 5G field lab on the automotive campus, where we focus on infrastructure such as roads, railways and waterways. And there is a field lab in Rotterdam in an industrial environment. We use 5G there to further digitize a refinery and thereby make it safer.
“Together with the 5Groningen project we are therefore practically active throughout the Netherlands, with many different applications: agricultural, for consumers, safety, transport, etc. We learn from all those experiments and we then try to roll it out as quickly as possible.
“And we are ready to do so. The government is preparing an auction of the available frequencies that is planned for the second quarter of 2020. Only in 2022 will the 3.5 GHz frequency - with a larger bandwidth - become available in the Netherlands. This means that we in the Netherlands are slightly behind our neighboring countries. On the other hand, it might also save us from teething problems.”
Some claim that Europe is lagging behind major powers such as China and the US when it comes to new technology. Yet Europe - certainly when it comes to regulations regarding Air Mobility - seems to be ahead of the troops. How do you think Europe is doing?
“I think we are doing pretty well in Europe, that we are starting to lead the way - certainly when it comes to regulations. In the US, China, but also in Australia, drones are deployed in very rural areas where fewer people live. We have fewer places like that in Europe and certainly not in the Netherlands. That means that we have to think better about how to approach this..”
For a safe airspace - certainly closer to the ground - it is vital that systems communicate with each other in the right way. - Worldwide steps are being taken to standardization. What is the role of a company like KPN in this?
“We play an important role in the standardization of mobile networks. During the previous edition of the Amsterdam Drone Week I gave a lecture in which I indicated what the telecom providers have already done in the past. Nobody wants a drone for medical assistance on the border between the Netherlands and Germany to suddenly be confronted with different rules. So standardization is definitely necessary.”
Discussions about drones quickly concern safety, nuisance and privacy. But there are also applications where those issues play a lesser role, such as applications in agriculture, inspection or industry. How far are we at this moment? Can you name successful examples?
“Yes, we did a successful pilot project in Drenthe in which we flew over a potato field with a drone and 5G to make pictures to see at a detailed level where potatoes were healthy and where not. So that the farmer can use very targeted crop protection there. We can thereby reduce a process that normally takes 48 hours to 2 hours. Moreover, the quantities of plant protection products used can be reduced by no less than 30%.
“Another successful pilot is the transport of medicines from Lauwersoog to Schiermonnikoog. Together with the Erasmus Medical Center and Sanquin Blood Bank, ANWB, PostNL and drone developer Avy we are investigating how drones can be used for medical applications such as transporting blood, medicines, and diagnostic samples to patients and care institutions.
“We start with medical applications because you use them to get used to it and with that a piece of acceptance with the general public. When new technologies enrich someone's life, they can often live well with it.”
What do you expect to learn from Amsterdam Drone Week 2019?
“It's important for me to find out how far we are now in terms of regulations. But what is just as important is to find out whether the latent potential of drone technology - which everyone understands and sees - can now be converted into concrete projects. I think in the past year we have proven that our network is capable for flying up to 120 meters and that we can convince a number of parties that the new world is closer than they thought. And that together we can further develop the business. But always based on the applications: which problem do you solve with a drone?"