Over the holidays, Walmart's drone operation reported significant advancements, completing more than 6,000 deliveries in the US safely by the end of 2022.
Walmart's delivery drones connect to multiple 5G carriers at once, which makes them far safer and more reliable. Officials at Walmart believe that 5G will play a significant part in this endeavor.
“Our fleet of delivery drones are all 5G capable, and our existing operations are currently using LTE. This is subject to change as 5G networks continue to evolve domestically,” a Walmart representative said.
According to a statement made by a Walmart spokesman, the company's drone program is managed by DroneUp, a startup that Walmart invested in back in 2021. DroneUp, in turn, obtains its wireless connections through the third-party vendor Elsight.
Safe and reliable drone delivery at scale requires multi-carrier approach
“In order to achieve the levels of safety and reliability required for drone delivery and other BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) operations, DroneUp required a solution that would get them as close as possible to what is known as ‘six nines' of availability, or 99.9999% uptime,” Elsight reported. “Traditional RF links are too limited in range, and SATCOM (satellite communications) solutions proved to be too expensive. This left cellular as the communications technology of choice.”
According to Elsight, DroneUp investigated a number of various cellular choices before settling on the company's Halo platform. This platform allows simultaneous 4G and 5G connections from a number of different cellular operators.
“While the drone delivery use case would not need the bandwidth of more than a single SIM, the ability to utilize multiple SIMs across multiple carriers eliminated the potential problem of having a single point of failure, providing the reliability that was required,” Elsight wrote. “DroneUp selected Elsight's Halo platform as their connectivity solution of choice. The carrier-agnostic Halo can utilize up to four SIMs from multiple carriers, and uses AI-powered bonding that aggregates all available bandwidth into one, automatically balances traffic, and allows drone communication systems to seamlessly switch to a backup link if network coverage is lost.”
That is to say, the rapidly growing drone program at Walmart is not dependent on any one carrier such as Verizon or T-Mobile. Instead, Walmart's drone provider, DroneUp, is utilizing a platform from Elsight that is capable of connecting to the most advantageous 4G or 5G network whenever and wherever it is needed.
“The best way to boost your chances of maintaining rock-solid connectivity for your drone operations is to use a purpose-built solution that supports multiple network providers and uses automatic link monitoring to ensure constant connection,” Elsight's Ben Gross reportedly said. “Elsight's Halo platform provides all this and more. Able to utilize up to four different cellular links from multiple network providers, it monitors all available connections and seamlessly switches to the best possible option should dropout occur.”
Walmart is ramping up drone delivery
Walmart has stated that it is currently operating 36 drone delivery centers throughout seven different states in the United States. These states are Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.
The retailing giant also revealed that its most popular drone-delivered products include lemons, rotisserie chickens, Great Value Cookies and Cream Ice Cream, Red Bull beverages, and Bounty paper towels.
“We're encouraged by the positive response from customers and look forward to making even more progress in 2023,” said Walmart's Vik Gopalakrishnan, VP of Innovation and Automation, in a press release. The company's drones can carry up to 10 pounds and can land in customers' yards. Each delivery costs $3.99.
There are several businesses besides Walmart, DroneUp, and Elsight that are interested in the opportunities presented by drones.
Amazon, UPS, and several other companies are also making investments in drone delivery services. And T-Mobile and Qualcomm are just two of the many wireless companies that are looking into the possibility of selling their wares and services to those who fly drones.
Skyward, a drone business that Verizon purchased in 2017, was discontinued by the company last year. Right around the time Walmart initially unveiled its drone ambitions with DroneUp.
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