One of the news that’s been doing rounds in the European telco markets lately is the plan of EE (Everything Everywhere), UK’s largest mobile operator, to roll out drones as part of its mid-term wireless strategy. This is probably one of the first moves by a telco in this sphere, usually dominated by the likes of Facebook, Google & Tesla, and one that deserves some applaud. I see this as a strong encouragement for other telcos to think beyond their traditional connectivity mediums of terrestrial wireline and wireless networks – towards airborne networks!

EPFL-spinoff Flyability was recently awarded with one million dollars at the “Drones for Good Award” in Dubai for its world’s first collision-proof drone “Gimball”

Flying robotics made in Switzerland: EPFL-spinoff Flyability was recently awarded with one million dollars at the “Drones for Good Award” in Dubai for its world’s first collision-proof drone “Gimball”.

OTTs are quite cynical when it comes to telcos, they have therefore been constantly striving to develop alternative solutions to bypass traditional connectivity. Such a capability not only gives them the independence from reliance on telcos, but also provides them an edge with their ecosystem of products and services to create a seamless experience for their customers. Think of cities powered by Internet from Google’s Loons which offer the connectivity basis for all products and services running on Android Phones, Google Nest (IoT), and the (not yet ready) driverless car – that would be Google impacting almost all facets of our lives. Recent announcements by Tesla and Facebook are some steps along this direction. In the developing world, its being seen as a philanthropic move – the real motive however, might as well be to connect the untapped 3 Billion “potential” consumers currently not online and to have a self-controlled connectivity medium for services in future.

Although OTTs might think big & global, they lack the local knack essential for succeeding in regional markets and more importantly would face enormous challenges in managing a global connectivity footprint of balloons, drones and all such flying objects.

For telcos, drones could be a blessing in disguise. Possibilities include extending cost-effective connectivity footprint to areas devoid of adequate Internet or for specific services such as

  • IoT
  • using these flying objects to get more people consume online services
  • even newer business models not thought/spoken of in our business world (think Amazon like delivery drones for the Swiss terrain).

The question is: on the lines of EE, is it something we should be pursuing at Swisscom as well? Do drones, balloons and satellite meshed networks (we do use leased satellite capacity today for some of our Grundversorgung customers) make sense for Swisscom? How do you think?