Telia puts 5G base station on drone and goes logging

It's one thing to connect a drone to a 5G network, it's quite another to use a drone to provide 5G connectivity.

Nick Wood

June 19, 2024

3 Min Read

Nevertheless, that is precisely what Swedish incumbent Telia has done, in partnership with a sizeable roster of suppliers: Ericsson, Volvo, Mittuniversitetet (Mid Sweden University), forestry industry group Biometria, forestry research institute Skogforsk, and paper products maker SCA.

Co-funded by the Swedish government's R&D arm, Vinnova, this group has been experimenting with remotely-controlled timber loaders – rugged vehicles with big, hydraulic claws for picking up logs and putting them on trucks – since late 2021, when they drove one around SCA's timber yard near Timrå, in the north of the country.

Now they have gone a step further, flying a drone equipped with a portable 5G base station to extend coverage to the middle of nowhere, using the temporary connectivity to enable a forestry machine to be controlled remotely. In this case, it was a machine called a forwarder, which carries felled timber from the tree stump to the side of the road.

The successful test was carried out in May in a forest in Virsbo, about 100 miles north west of Stockholm.

During the test, the drone was approximately 500 metres away from the forwarder, but provided coverage up to a range of 3 kilometres. The driver of the machine was sitting in Skogforsk's remote control lab in Uppsala, some 80 kilometres away.

"We can now establish that it is possible to connect and remotely control large vehicles via a drone, which in practice acts as a base station in the mobile network," said Magnus Leonhardt, head of strategy and innovation at Telia Sweden's B2B business. "This creates completely new and flexible opportunities to connect businesses that work in areas with insufficient network coverage. Apart from the forestry and agricultural industry, the technology can be used in disaster areas if normal mobile coverage is completely knocked out."

According to the Swedish Forest Industries Federation, forests cover around 75% of Sweden's landmass. It is one of the world's biggest exporters of pulp, paper and sawn timber, with export value reaching SEK184 billion ($17.6 billion) in 2023. The industry employees 120,000 people.

That's a long-winded way of saying that it is big addressable market, and that there is a solid case for conducting experiments like this one.

Telia didn't share what frequency the drone was using to connect to the vehicle, but in the 2021 test they used mid-band 3.5-GHz spectrum for its blend of high throughput, low latency and coverage characteristics, so they may well have used it again this time round.

There was also no word on the backhaul interface. Satellite might not offer adequately low latency; that leaves cellular, which would mean that a flying 5G base station would have to be within range of an operational mast, which might limit its efficacy as a connectivity solution for extremely remote locations. has asked Telia about it, and will update this story if it hears back.

Regardless of the finer points of the technology, it is an interesting use of drones, given that a lot of use cases to date have centred on controlling the drone itself via the macro network to enable beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) communication.

Indeed, 'flying base station' has yet to appear on research firm Drone Industry Insights' matrix of commercial drone use cases (see image below), for either telecoms or activities like mining and quarrying, which often take place in remote areas.


Meanwhile, Telia and its friends aren't done playing with their remote-controlled toys.

"In the next step, we want to test connecting and remotely controlling a soil preparation machine, which is a much heavier machine that operates in inaccessible terrain," Petrus Jönsson, researcher and deputy programme manager at Skogforsk. "The goal for us is to improve the working environment for the drivers, and soil preparation workers, in particular, operate in a very tough environment."

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

Get the latest news straight to your inbox.
Register for the newsletter here.

You May Also Like