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Warwickshire Search and Rescue takes flight with Virgin Media O2 5G connected drone

Virgin Media O2 delivers search and rescue team ‘signal from the sky’ with mobile base station small enough to be flown on a drone, bringing reliable 5G signal to remote areas to assist with rescue missions

With 170,000 people reported missing in the UK every year, rescue teams need any help they can get on missions to save lives – and technology has the potential to assist greatly in this field.

Virgin Media O2 has developed a 5G-connected drone to help further the cause of Warwickshire Search and Rescue team protect lives establish reliable communication in the most remote areas.

Someone is reported missing every 90 seconds in the UK, and while many soon return home to family and friends, some do not – often because they suffer from a form of dementia or are at risk of harming themselves.

Warwickshire Search and Rescue Team is an operational 24/7 volunteer force set up to assist the police with searches for vulnerable missing persons within the county of Warwickshire and beyond. Its team is part of a much bigger family of 36 Lowland Rescue teams in the UK, and responded to 65 callouts in 2022, up 45% from 2020, and has already seen a further 65 callouts in 2023 so far.

In rural areas, such as parts of Warwickshire, emergency services and rescue teams often struggle to establish reliable communication when working in the most remote areas not served by traditional mobile networks. This makes it extremely difficult for rescue teams and the police to stay connected on time-critical rescue missions.

The Warwickshire Search and Rescue team is the first team to trial the new Virgin Media O2 technology. The operator’s 5G Technical Trials team developed a solution designed to provide reliable 5G mobile connectivity to rescue teams using a network of low Earth orbit satellites, which is small enough to be flown on a drone.

The drone, which can be rapidly deployed in remote areas by the search and rescue team, acts as an airborne mobile phone mast, providing those on-the-ground with 5G mobile connectivity no matter where their mission takes them. This allows the rescue team to access essential information, communicate with one another, assess situations at speed, and easily locate and save those in danger.

Virgin Media O2 rescue drone
Virgin Media O2's drone will assist Warwickshire Search and Rescue in its missions

Commenting on the deployment, Steve Brown, trustee and search technician at Warwickshire Search and Rescue said: “Our team is made up volunteers and there is only so much resource available to us. With more and more callouts each year, this drone with mobile connectivity is a powerful tool for our team to understand and assess a situation immediately, saving crucial time in life-threatening situations.

“It means we will always be connected, ensuring seamless communication and efficient coordination throughout our missions. As a result of this, we will connect the unreachable, save lives, and inspire a new era of technological possibilities.”

Virgin Media O2 first trialled 4G and 5G connected drone technology in October 2022, with the Snowdonia Aerospace Centre to help emergency services and mountain rescue volunteers to protect lives at the Welsh beauty spot.

“This project is a further example of how fresh-thinking and 5G technologies can be combined to provide real societal benefits,” added David Owens, head of technical trials at Virgin Media O2.

“The solution has the potential to transform how search and rescue teams operate and respond to life-threatening situations, enabling them to make faster and more decisive decisions. We’re enormously proud that our connectivity will be able to help these teams to save lives.”

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