We've been delivering cheer via 4G, in one of the UK's most hard-to-reach places. Check out our festive 4G drone in action...

We’ve been putting our network to the test, equipping the latest drone tech with a 4G connection to deliver some well-deserved treats to volunteers on the Isle of Portland. Here’s what happened…

4G merrily on high

As one of the most southerly points in the UK, Portland Bill Coastwatch in Dorset requires plenty of resources when it comes to keeping both sea and shore safe. That’s why, alongside the emergency services, it also receives help from 75 kind volunteers, collectively spending more than 9,500 hours a year acting as the coast’s eyes and ears.

Because of these south coast Watch Keepers’ hard work, and because Portland’s coastline can be hard to reach, we thought we’d give Santa a helping hand this year by delivering them some well-deserved Christmas treats– all via drone.

But because we always like to test our limits, you won’t be surprised to hear that this was no ordinary drone. Ours, decked up in some festive Santa sleigh livery, actually became the UK’s first ever drone delivery piloted over a 4G mobile network.

What does that mean? Well, drones normally communicate back to their pilot via radio link, which necessitates a line-of-sight operating range. With a Vodafone 4G modem on board, though, our delivery drone was able to be monitored in real time from a much greater range, without the need for it to stay directly within range of radio signals.

A sign of things to come

This Christmassy drone delivery was a fun use of some pretty pioneering tech and an way to spread some Christmas cheer at the same time, but what it means for the UK’s future is the most exciting part.

First up, it proved to be another great test for our reliable, award-winning 4G network, which now blankets 99% of the UK – from Portland Bill all the way up to the Isle of Skye.

But secondly? We believe this kind of drone connection is the future: the imminent arrival of low-latency 5G will make drone delivery – even in built-up areas – an everyday occurrence, allowing for brand new ways to exchange physical items using digital tech.

“Technology plays an increasingly important role in connecting people over Christmas,” says Vodafone UK’s CTO, Scott Petty. “And flying a drone over 4G for the first time gives us a glimpse of what Christmas deliveries of the future might look like.”

Receiving presents via 4G and 5G drones? Maybe Santa should start polishing his CV. Watch this space, and the skies, for more.

Check out the UK’s first 5G holographic call… It’s even cooler than you imagine.